Everton Under-21s boss Alan Stubbs said his side’s group win was nothing less than they deserved.
The young Blues secured the point they needed against Sunderland on Monday night to top the group with two games still to play.
And Stubbs insisted his charges were full value for the success as they extended their unbeaten run to 13 games.
The former Blues skipper told evertontv: “The lads take a lot of credit and we move on to the next stage and see who we will face there.
“At the end of the day we have done it with two games to spare, which is a good achievement for the boys. We have had Aston Villa, who have won the NexGen tournament and Chelsea in our section and a number of other good teams as well.”
Monday’s game itself was one of the more forgettable U21s clashes this season, but it did illustrate a defensive resolve that is likely to be important in the latter stages of this newly structured competition.
Stubbs continued: “I have said to the lads that I thought they applied themselves well and tried to do the right things.
“I thought we created a number of chances and on another night we could have won two or three nil.
“The lads have shown maturity and given themselves a platform to win games because they have defended well when called upon.”