Head Coach speaks from Deepdale on squad selection.
By Nicholas Veevers in Preston
UEFA European U19 Championship
Elite Qualifying Round
25-30 May 2012
England, Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland
Deepdale, Preston & Spotland, Rochdale
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England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake selected his squad for the forthcoming European Elite Qualifying Round in Preston earlier today and now has his eyes set on the three crucial games next month.
Blake named his 18-man group in front of the media at Preston North End’s Deepdale home, where England will play two of their games, and admitted he’s had a tough choice in picking his players.
With the U19s remaining unbeaten in all of their six games so far this campaign and having looked at a number of players over the course of that time, Blake always knew he would have a selection dilemma on his hands.
“It’s been difficult because there are a lot of lads who have done really well this year up to this point, who I’ve had to leave out for this tournament,” he said.
“Sometimes, you look at squads for tournaments and a different squad is what’s required and you have to identify certain things in the opposition, so I’ve looked at bits and pieces, I’ve looked at personnel and I’ve selected accordingly.
“There are a number of boys who can count themselves unlucky not to be in the squad for various reasons, but we’ve got to press on and squads evolve and so do players, so we can’t afford to stand still."
The two names who perhaps stand out are Everton pair John Lundstram and Eric Dier, who have both played for Blake at U18 level this season, but this represents their first call-up for the U19s.
“They’ve both done very well, not only in the international games that they’ve taken part in with the U18s for me, but they’ve been monitored for their clubs and they’ve both done very well in recent times,” explained Blake.
“Michael Keane is another interesting one, as he had played for the Republic Of Ireland in his early international career, but I’ve always liked him as a footballer, he's had a good season and when we had the information that he wasn’t going to play for the Republic anymore, we got the opportunity to pick him for England.
“Benik Afobe missed last year’s Elite Round and he hasn’t really played international football at all this season because of injuries, but he’s done really well recently and we’ll see how he goes.”
The squad will first meet up in mid May for a two day training camp to get some early preparations for the games, before the group comes together in the North-West for the actual tournament itself on 19 May.
Their first game is six days later when Slovenia are the opponents at Deepdale on 25 May and Blake knows that his players will need to be in top form against all three nations if they want to progress into the Euro Finals in Estonia in July.
“People might think, looking at the games against Slovenia, Montenegro and Switzerland that it’s going to be easy,” he added.
“But I can tell you that it won’t be.
“Last year we encountered both Montenegro and Switzerland at this stage of the competition and they were both hard games.
“Switzerland won the World Cup at U17 level a few years ago and we saw Montenegro in the Seniors against England not too long ago, they won’t be easy to break down.
“Slovenia are an emerging nation, but they were at the World Cup in South Africa, so it will be a good test for us, there’s no easy game at international level.
“But I’m confident with the squad that we’ve got, that if we perform, we’ll get a favourable outcome.”
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Manchester United), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough).
Defenders: Eric Dier (Everton, on loan from Sporting Lisbon), Luke Garbutt (Everton), Todd Kane (Chelsea), Michael Keane (Manchester United), Jack Robinson (Liverpool), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool).
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Larnell Cole (Manchester United), 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).