Monday, 15 June 2009

England under-21s ready for challenge

While their senior colleagues jet off on their holidays after a job well done last week England’s youngsters are in Sweden preparing for the Under-21 European Championship.
There seems to be more interest in the competition this year, I think partly down to the brave effort of the side in the last European Championships two years ago.

Then, after an gruelling match with hosts and eventual winners Holland, Stuart Pearce’s side took part in one of the most epic penalty shootouts I have ever seen. The sight of an injured Steven Taylor limping up to the spot and burying his penalty I brought back visions of Stuart Pearce against Spain in Euro 96. But sadly for me and England Anton Ferdinand’s miss brought back memories of Chris Waddle in 1990 and the side crashed out agonisingly 13-12 on penalties.

The side may have changed since then but it is still packed full of talent determined to erase the memories of that night. Micah Richards, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Theo Walcott have all had senior caps while James Milner is the most experienced England Under-21 players of all time with 42 caps. Kieran Gibbs came on leaps and bounds to wards the end of the season, finishing he year as first choice left back for Arsenal while Jack Rodwell at Everton has been labelled the next Rio Ferdinand.

They have a tough group with Finland, Germany and Spain all waiting, but I see no reason why they can’t progress in the tournament. Experiences of big matches is vital to these players development – manager Stuart Pearce has already suggested that if the team is to win it they will have to win on penalties somewhere down the line. How we could do with a penalty shoot-out win given our past experiences!

Many of the players will also have their eye on a place in the squad for next years World Cup. This is their chance to show they can perform at the highest level and deserve a place on the plane to South Africa next year whatever their age. If the player can use that motivation and perform as we all know they can, I think they can go all the way.