Having earned just two points from their opening two fixtures, the England Under-21 squad seem to be following all too literally in the footsteps of their senior counterparts. Just like Fabio Capello’s side twelve months previous, Stuart Pearce’s highly rated team go in to their final group game knowing that only victory will see the pre-tournament favourites progress to the semi-final stages of the competition. With their Czech opponents requiring only a draw to all but ensure qualification, manager Pearce is aware of the magnitude of the task that faces his young charges: “The
Pearce, however, is determined to take the positives out of the situation in which his England team find themselves. He has drawn similarities between the current campaign and the senior side’s exploits in Italia ‘90, claiming that “if we get out the group by winning this game then the manner in which we do it will galvanise us” – a galvanisation which he implies would not have been forthcoming had England beat Ukraine and proceeded to draw with the Czech Republic.
A more palpable positive than the promise of permutations has been the form of the English backline – something that Pearce has been quick to praise. He referred to Phil Jones as a “colossus” after the defender played his part in shutting out the Ukraine attack in last week’s 0-0 stalemate. Indeed, the English backline has been breached just once – and that by a somewhat spuriously awarded goal from Spain’s Ander Herrera. Pearce’s men have, however, notched just once themselves in 180 minutes, a poor return considering the wealth of attacking options available to the former Manchester City manager. Danny Welbeck – the scorer of that solitary goal – has dismissed the suggestion that both he and his teammates are suffering from nerves ahead of their final encounter: “I don’t see any need to be nervous,“, Welbeck said. “I go into every game like I’m playing at school, looking forward to getting on the pitch, getting on the ball. You just play football because you love it, go out with your friends, train, have banter, but winning’s the most important thing.” The Manchester United man is expected to spearhead England’s attack once more tonight as England look for the three points that will ensure their safe passage into the semi-final stage.