Stuart Pearce is looking ahead to the European Finals as his team begin their preparations in Sheffield.
England v Czech Republic
Under-21 International Friendly
7.45pm, Tuesday 18 November 2008
Bramall Lane, Sheffield United FC
Tickets £10 for adults and £5 for concessions
After victory in a tough Euro 2009 Play-Off against Wales last month, England Under-21s Coach Stuart Pearce is looking ahead to the Finals as his team begin their preparations on Tuesday night.
The Three Lions meet Czech Republic at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane home, in their first match since qualification for next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship was sealed.
England were pushed the whole way by a very determined Welsh side last month. Following a 3-2 victory in the first-leg in Cardiff, England made hard work of the return at Villa Park, but a 5-4 aggregate victory took them through to Sweden. Now Pearce's side can focus on getting ready for the main event.
"Without a doubt, last month’s Play-Off against Wales provided two very hard matches and arguably the toughest tests this team has had during qualification," said Pearce, who side had conceded only one goal in eight Group Three matches prior to meeting Wales.
"They were a strong side and pushed us all the way but I don’t think we played to our full potential and that contributed to making it a much more level encounter.
"We scored five goals over two matches, so there were a lot of plus points and also a few down points. It’s those we’ll look at and work on between now and the Championship next summer."
For Pearce and a handful of players, Sweden next summer will represent a second bite at the cherry after Semi-Final defeat to Holland on penalties at the 2007 Finals.
Since that match in Heerenveen, Pearce has used 36 players while maintaining an unbeaten record, which highlights the deep pool available to the former England defender.
As he looks to strengthen that pool even further between now and June, Pearce has another eight players in his squad for Tuesday's game who are yet to make their debut for the Under-21s.
"We feel we are always improving, but we also know we must keep getting better if we are going to do what we’ve set out to achieve and that’s win the tournament," Pearce explained.
"I have now been in charge for 21 games and we’ve been able to get to know the players that bit better. We have tried to create a bigger pool of players and I think in Sweden the standard of our team will be better than in Holland.
He continued: "However, I will not underestimate the quality of teams we'll be coming up against. There wasn’t a game in the Play-Offs last month that didn’t go to form.
"All the favourites went through and it shows just how good a tournament it could be next summer. We certainly know we won’t be favourites.
"Between now and then there is a lot of football to be played so we must use that to improve as a squad and individually. There are also the players who haven’t been involved yet, but could come along with a late burst like Leroy Lita and Ashley Young did last time around.
"We have some new faces in Tuesday night's squad who haven’t been with us before. Sheffield United's Kyle Naughton has deserved a call-up, while Fabian Delph has been performing well for Leeds United. On top of that we have players like Jack Cork, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Adam Lallana who are new in the squad this season.
"So there are opportunities for players to show me what they can do at international level and it’s interesting for me to be able to have a look at them."
And Pearce expects another hard encounter at Bramall Lane against the Czechs, a side England met during their group games in Holland.
Pearce also has some great personal memories from playing against Czechoslovakia back in 1990. During his 78 England appearances he scored five goals, but his first arrived in what was his 21st cap - a 4-2 victory over the Czechs at Wembley.
"Czech Republic are just the type of team we want to be playing over the next few months. They are a very good side and only just missed out on a place in the Play-Offs," he said.
"They’ll be a strong and physically imposing team, well organised and will want to upset us here. So I’m under no illusion that this will be an easy game."
He added: "I scored my first goal for England against Czechoslovakia at Wembley in 1990 and it’s something I will never forget.
"We had a short corner and the ball came over and I arrived at the back post, caught it on the half volley and scored. In reality I was about seven yards out, but in my mind it was a 30 yard screamer."