For many Premier League footballers today marks the start of pre-season, the painful few weeks where the brief excesses of their holidays come back to haunt them as running, drills and fitness tests await. However, for the England Under-21 side last season has yet to finish, the latest sign of the all year-round nature of the modern football calendar. I doubt you will hear many dissenting voices among Stuart Pearce’s young charges though as their final game of the 2008/09 season is the European Under-21 Championship final against, who else, but Germany.
It is perhaps fitting that after finally banishing one big tournament hoodoo – the semi-final penalty shoot-out – another arch nemesis lies in wait in the final. They have already met in the Championships of course, when a much changed England side earned a 1-1 draw thanks to Jack Rodwell’s header. Expect a different team to take to the field in the final, though England will be hurt by the suspensions of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fraizer Campbell and Joe Hart.
The opposition has certainly added more spark to the occasion and to kick off the mind games ahead of kick-off Germany have chosen to wear their red away strip despite being designated as the home team – we all know what happened the last time England wore red against Germany in a major final.
Boss Pearce has remained focused throughout, refusing to get carried away with England’s progression, something we are all guilty of when watching England compete in major tournaments. He barely celebrated when victory was sealed against Sweden; instead he switched his attentions immediately to Monday’s clash with the old enemy. Perhaps spurred on by his previous encounters – and eventual defeats – against Germany, Pearce’s level of focus should ensure his young charges do not get carried away with themselves. Maybe the shock of conceding a 3-0 lead in the semi-final gave them a stern reminder not to take anything for granted.
England have blown hot and cold in this tournament, ranging from the superb to the sloppy. They know what they will get against Germany: organisation, aggression and no little skill, but if England perform like we know they can there is no reason why they cannot go on and claim the trophy for the third time in their history, bringing their long 2008/09 campaign to a successful conclusion.
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