Stuart Pearce expects another tough encounter when his U21s team meet Wales for a place at Euro 2009.
Wales v England
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Play-Off
Matches to be played 10/11 and 14/15 October 2008 over two legs
Stuart Pearce is preparing for another tough encounter when his Under-21s team meet Wales in next month's play-off for a place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship Finals.
Pearce was in Malmo, Sweden on Friday for the play-off draw and was looking on as England were paired with the Welsh, a side they beat 2-0 only four months ago.
Tom Huddlestone and Theo Walcott were on target for The Three Lions that May evening in Wrexham, but Pearce believes that the scoreline didn’t truly reflect a game in which Wales controlled the early exchanges, and were unlucky not to see their strike pairing of Ched Evans and Sam Vokes find the net.
“That result probably flattered us on the day, we didn't play particularly well,” said Pearce.
“Wales at this level are the strongest they have been in their history. They have seven players with full caps. There are not too many countries in Europe that can boast that.
“We know we are in for a tough tie, any time countries from the British Isles play each other there is a little bit of edge on the game, especially as this is a play-off tie. Whoever gets through knows they will have been in a couple of tough games.”
And Brian Flynn’s Wales will know a lot about England, with the majority of their players plying their trade in the Football League and Premier League. Pearce was even manager of one of their key players, striker Ched Evans, during his time at Manchester City.
“I know all about him, he's going from strength to strength,” said Pearce. “They have a few: Bale, Gunter, Ramsey. They have good players and it is the size and strength of Welsh football that they are well-known in their own right.
“Without any disrespect, five years ago the Under-21 teams did not have many well-known names. Now that is not the case.”
Having topped Group Three in qualifying, which was sealed with a 2-0 win over Portugal at Wembley last week, it’s been a good few days for The Three Lions set-up. Pearce, who is also a coach in Fabio Capello’s Senior set-up, believes that it’s a good time for England’s younger teams, too.
“The weekend started well by us beating Portugal, the U19s won on Tuesday and the seniors won a couple of games. It's nice that all the age groups are winning.
“They are one-off games but we have to ensure the young players get opportunities for these experiences, like the Under-21s being at Wembley. If one or two of those players have to turn out against Kazakhstan next month then they know what it is all about.
“Across the board we are looking quite deeply into the education of players at various age groups.”
But now Pearce will be focusing on the Wales game with a place at the Finals in Sweden next summer up for grabs.
England’s last European Championship campaign ended in an agonising defeat to Holland on penalties in 2007, and Pearce is determined to guide his team further this time around.
That defeat to the Dutch is the Under-21s only reversal in nearly three years, and, with the experience his players have gained, he hopes they can reach their ultimate goal in June.
“My main drive from the outset, and the message I've given to the players when we started the tournament, is that we're in this tournament to try to win it,” he explained.
“We're not here to make up the numbers or just to get to the Finals. You have to have it on your mind that there are 15 matches to play to win this tournament. If we get to the Finals there are only seven other teams. A shock result here and there and anyone can win it.
“The Dutch were worthy winners but needed a last-minute equaliser to get past us, then penalties. We were close last time and enjoyed the experience.
“We have to make sure we get that experience again and when we do get there, have a strong enough squad to have real tilt at it and hopefully win it.”
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off draw
First leg: 11/12 October
Second leg: 14/15 October
Germany v France; Denmark v Serbia; Turkey v Belarus; Austria v Finland; Wales v England; Italy v Israel; Switzerland v Spain.