18-man squad named for crucial qualifiers in the North-West.
By Nicholas Veevers
UEFA European U19 Championship
Elite Qualifying Round
25-30 May 2012
Deepdale, Preston & Spotland, Rochdale
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England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake has named his 18-man squad for next month's UEFA European Championship Elite Qualifying Round games, which are being staged in Lancashire.
The Young Lions face opposition from Montenegro, Slovenia and Switzerland over the course of five days and know they need to finish top of the four-team group table if they are to progress to July's Finals in Estonia.
England were given a bye through the First Qualifying Round as a seeded team, but have remained unbeaten in their games this season, collecting wins against Czech Republic, Denmark, Portugal and Ukraine, whilst also drawing with the Netherlands and France.
And Blake has called upon a largely experienced squad in order to tackle the group stage and reach the last eight of the competition, naming his squad in a press conference at Preston North End's Deepdale home, where England will play two of their matches, on Thursday morning.
There are a few new faces in the squad though. Manchester United defender Michael Keane joins his twin brother and club-mate Will in an England squad for the first time. Having previously represented Republic of Ireland at U17 and U19 level in the past, the Stockport-born player has now been given clearance to represent England and Blake has swooped to call him up. He is joined in the squad by two more United players in the shape of goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and winger Larnell Cole.
Everton duo Eric Dier and John Lundstram are also selected for the first time at U19 level after previously playing for Blake in the U18 side this season. The North-West region is well represented in the squad for the games otherwise, with Liverpool's Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson selected and Everton starlet Ross Barkley joining Lundstram and Dier in the squad.
Arsenal striker Benik Afobe is back in the squad after missing most of the season through injury, but having made a full recovery and ending the season on loan with Reading, he has done enough to earn his place in the group.
England's first game in the Elite Round is at Deepdale on Friday 25 May when Slovenia are the opponents, before they face Montenegro at Rochdale FC's Spotland two days later. The final match sees England return to Preston on Wednesday 30 May to play Switzerland.
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Manchester United), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough).
Defenders: Jake Bidwell (Everton) ***, Eric Dier (Everton, on loan from Sporting Lisbon), Todd Kane (Chelsea), Michael Keane (Manchester United), Jack Robinson (Liverpool), Tom Thorpe (Manchester United)*
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea),Jack Dunn (Liverpool)**, Harry Kane (Millwall, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), John Lundstram (Everton), George Thorne (West Bromwich Albion).
Forwards: Benik Afobe (Reading, on loan from Arsenal), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Will Keane (Manchester United).
* Replaces Luke Garbutt (Cheltenham, on loan from Everton) who is involved in League Two Play-Off Final
** Replaces Larnell Cole (Manchester United) who is withdrawn injured.
*** Replaces Andre Wisdom (Liverpool).