Stuart Pearce's side to face Italy in Euro preparations.
England Under-21s will kick-start a big year – including a third successive European Championship Finals appearance – with a friendly against Italy in Tuscany next month.
Preparations for the exciting 2011 calendar will begin at Serie B side Empoli’s Stadio Carlo Castellani on Tuesday 8 February (2pm GMT), when Stuart Pearce's side will take on the Azzurrini, or the Little Blues.
Pearce's players will all be keen to secure their place on the plane to Denmark in June, where the Under-21s European Championship Finals will reach their climax.
With tricky ties against Spain, Ukraine and Czech Republic all scheduled for the tournament, match practice against blue-chip European opposition is considered vital by Coach Pearce.
Italy remain the most successful side in the history of the Championships having secured the title on five separate occasions, but they failed to qualify this time around following their 3-2 defeat to Belarus in the qualifying play-offs.
The current squad includes the likes of Manchester United’s Federico Macheda and Chelsea’s Fabio Borini.
“It’s the start of a big year for us, and one where our credentials will be tested by some good footballing nations, particularly in the Finals,” said Pearce.
“Italy will give us the type of test that we will need in preparation for the summer, and the game will also give players a chance to start staking a claim for a squad place at the tournament.
“Everyone will have had a bit of a break from the international scene, so I’ll be looking forward to the players coming back refreshed and with real focus for England duty.”
The sides last met in 2007 when they shared a two-all draw at the European Finals in Holland, where David Nugent and Leroy Lita had fired the Three Lions into a two goal lead before the Blues pegged them back.
Just three month prior the two sides had again finished all square in a 3-3 draw at the opening of the new Wembley Stadium.
The attendance for the Wembley fixture remains a record Under-21 crowd, standing at 55,700 for the inaugural event under the now famous arch, where then Italy striker Giampaolo Pazzini became not only the first player to score, but also register a hat-trick at the newly built stadium.
England’s last visit to Italy came in February 2003, where the hosts came out victorious by the only goal of the game.
Last November the Under-21s played Germany in Wiesbaden, falling to an unlucky 2-0 defeat after having had keeper Jason Steele sent off before half-time.
Following the Under-21s away fixture Brian Eastick will lead an England Under-20 side at Shrewsbury Town, where they will take on France in a friendly on Wednesday 9 February (7.30pm kick off).