Fresh from giving England fans palpitations after Fridays semi-final win against host nation Sweden, England’s young lions have a chance to win some silverware for the junior lions for the first time since 1993. England Under 18’s triumphed that year, riding a week long wave of growing optimism and support to beat Turkey 1-0 in front of 25,000 fans in Nottingham. Tonight’s Under-21 final pits England against its greatest rivals of the modern era, Germany, in a repeat of the final Group A game.
England of course, will be missing three players. Joe Hart has failed in an appeal to get his second booking recinded after shadow boxing one of the Swedish players in the penalty shoot out. Agbonlahor also picked up a second booking and Campbell was sent off in extra time after receiving two bookings. Normally, that would be a big blow for any side, but with Theo Walcott desperate to finally get his tournament going, and a straight choice between Scott Loach or the very highly rated Joe Lewis, Pearce has the talent to fill the gaps.
It also seems to put a bit of a mockery on the claims that English youth football is suffering due to the influx of foriegn players. Pearce has led this side to the semi finals of the last two tournaments, with players such as Mark Noble, Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner and Theo Walcott at his disposal. These are not just players desperately thrown in to fill gaps, these are quality players, with plenty of Premiership experience between them.
Can they win tonight? Of course they can, the reserve team drew with the German side a week ago, so they will have not given anything away to their opponents. I’ve also seen that the Germans have changed their kit to red tonight to give them a psychological advantage which oddly means they’ve completely forgotten about Englands 5-1 destruction of Germany in Munich in September 2001. That night, the Senior side tried the same trick to stop England wearing red, but ultimately it blew up in their faces.
Of course the crucial thing here is not to put too much pressure on the side and the players if they can win tonight. England Under 21’s had a golden period in the early 1980’s, winning the competition twice in a row, 1982 and 1984. Those players perhaps didn’t move onwards as much apart from Trevor Steven and Mark Hateley perhaps but Howard Gayle, Paul Walsh and Mel Sterland never really made the step up.
There’s no doubt that the England Under 21’s side have shown that their are some positives for the future of English football, despite the doomongers and pessimists that worry constantly about the lack of English players at the Big 4. Of course we’d like to see more English talent given a chance, but Manchester United have always championed English talent, Liverpool have 2 or 3 outstanding prospects coming through also.
Pearce will be looking to bring the trophy home tonight from Malmo and improve his fast rising reputation in the England set up. His passion and pride for his country can never be questioned and before the team leave the dressing rooms tonight, Pearce will instill them just what winning this tournament will mean for these players.