England Under-21s go for glory at Carrow Road
Stuart Pearce has warned England Under-21's passage through to next summer's European Championship finals is not going to be an easy ride.
His England side face Romania Under-21s over two legs this week – firstly at Carrow Road tonight (7.30pm) before the return leg in Romania on Tuesday.
And Pearce warned no one should take England's opposition lightly.
He said: 'Commonsense suggests it. They've won their group. They've kept eight clean sheets out of 10 – the game they lost was a one off, they ended up getting beat 5-1 away in Latvia which was so leftfield of a result it's quite incredible .
'Technically they've got some very good players. Last time they played us it was a 1-1 draw, obviously with a different group of players, but it will be up in the air bearing in mind we haven't won our group – Greece won our group, so we've qualified as runners-up.
'It'll be a very tight two matches I believe, so we'll see how the games pan out, but I certainly don't see any favourites in this.
'One thing for sure is whichever team comes out of it on Tuesday night as the victors, they would have gained greatly and advanced as a squad.
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'And the team that goes out will probably feel themselves fairly unlucky, and a good side has gone out that possibly would have had a good tilt at the championships next summer.'
The Under-21s' last appearance at Carrow Road was a 5-0 friendly demolition of Slovakia in 2007 – a ground at which England's young guns have historically performed well.
'I'd be more than happy to take that result again and move on to Tuesday night,' admitted Pearce. 'The performance was great then. We were preparing to go to the Championships in 2007, so another result like that and another atmosphere like that and we'll be delighted.
'I'm looking forward to the two games, from a learning curve about our players I think we'll learn a great deal – how they handle the pressure of the play-off games and how they handle the style of the opposition. That's the importance of international football.'
Pearce, a plausible successor to Fabio Capello once he leaves his senior England duties, helped guide his Under-21 side to the Championships' final last year, where England were humbled by Germany in Malmo.
And the England manager is hopeful his current squad also have plenty of quality – as well as time on their side.
'It's a nucleus of a good squad,' said Pearce. 'What tends to happen if you get to a major finals, the progression over the next eight months and the finals will push the players on that little bit further, if we're lucky enough to get there, and you're probably judged on how many players get through to the seniors.
'We've been fortunate over the last two years with the likes of James Milner, Tom Huddlestone, Gabby Agbonlahor, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, Joe Hart. There are some players that have come through the Under-21 system and broken through, which is good.
'We have to make sure the next clutch of players, the Kieran Gibbs and one or two others push through.
'The spirit is being nurtured and it's taken us a little while, maybe longer than I expected.
'The one thing I can say is they are getting better and better by the game. The spirit is really good in the camp; we've unlocked something there and the players, credit to them, the seem to really enjoy each other's company and being away with the Under-21s, which is a real bonus for us and normally that spirit is taken on a pitch.
'We've got a lot of young players in the squad as well, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker. There's quite a few who can go again in the next campaign, so we're reasonably fortunate in that respect.
'We just need to keep nurturing that and the only way to do that is to keep winning matches.'
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