England Camp Focus – England expects

As Stuart Pearce’s men prepare for their opening game clash with Spain, Aston Villa’s Marc Albrighton has responded strongly to claims from Barcelona starlet Thiago Alcantara that the Spaniards don’t recognise any of the English squad. Indeed, Albrighton his reciprocated Thiago’s contention, claiming that his teammates would have similar problems in identifying the members of the Spanish starting XI. While such an exchange may well be of a predominantly infantile nature, its mere existence is indicative of the rivalry that has suddenly sprouted between the two pre-tournament favourites. Albrighton insists that the England side will not fear their Spanish counterparts – he cites the “craft that we’ve got going forward” – craft which he no doubt hopes will expose what he refers to as a “vulnerable” Spanish defence – will be sufficient to lead England to an opening game victory over Spain and perhaps set them on their way to bettering their commendable exploits of 2009.

Mind games aside, the preparation for the tournament has – from an England perspective – been good. Manager Stuart Pearce has declared himself content: “If we wound the clock back a week and I was offered the week we had on the training pitch that the players had given me [and] a 2-0 victory with no injuries, I would have snapped your hand off.” Yet the former Manchester City manager still sees significant room for improvement. In the wake of that 2-0 victory over Norway, Pearce said: “I would have preferred a better performance – I don’t think we played as well as we can. We could have passed the ball a lot better and Norway – credit to them – banked up and made it difficult. We gave the ball away cheaply,” he continued, “certainly in the first half, and we could have put the ball in their net a couple more times. But, we’ll take the good bits out of it, and the whole week in general out of it.”

The England squad have experienced somewhat of a disjointed week, with several key members being involved in high profile transfer negotiations. Both Liverpool’s new signing Jordan Henderson and Manchester United-bound Phil Jones are expected to start in Sunday’s fixture – a match which will cap off a turbulent week for both. When asked how the moves will affect future England chances for the duo, Pearce cites Chris Smalling as evidence that joining a “bigger club” does not necessarily dictate a decrease in playing time. Jack Wilshire’s withdrawal will mean that Henderson will be the heartbeat of the England midfield, a role that many Liverpool fans hope he will fulfil in their side for many years to come. His performances will be crucial as the English first seeds look to overcome the bookmakers’ favourite in what is arguably the tournament’s showcase match on Sunday night.

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