FA Editor Jamie Bradbury writes from inside the England Under-21s camp in Israel
Well, here we are again, two years on from that disappointing night in Viborg when two late Czech Republic goals sent England out of Euro 2011, Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s are about to embark on another Finals tournament.
After a succesful qualification campaign, I’m lucky enough to be here in Israel with the squad once more and, like Pearce and many of his staff, will be involved in my fourth UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
While much of the backroom staff has remained constant throughout the last few years, the team has obviously changed greatly. Not just in terms of their on-pitch capabilities, but also in the way they bond as a group.
The squads in the past have always had a great spirit and togetherness that stretches beyond just the players, but within this group there is a special feeling that is evident immediately to any newcomers to the set-up.
I got to our hotel, an hour drive north of Tel Aviv, on Saturday evening ahead of the team with The FA’s Head of Communications Scott Field, the England media officer, and waited with anticipation for the arrival of the lads 24 hours later.
Preparations had already started here, with an advance party landing prior to us, which enabled the transition from training base in Turkey to place of business in Israel and easy one.
Without the buzz of the players, Sunday was fairly quiet for us in the office but it was good to see everyone when they arrived safely at tea time, greeted by the hotel staff - and their England cake - and Sky Sports News.
Following a walk and stretch around the hotel grounds after they’d all checked in, and had dinner, we all sat down in the meeting room to watch the Senior Team in Brazil. It was nice to see that nine of the squad in Rio had actually played for the Under-21s during Pearce’s time in charge.
Needless to say, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, everyone cheered for their compadre – and of course he became a firm favourite of TheFA.com and FATV following his hat-trick in Iceland right at the start of this campaign.
On Monday morning the real tournament feel took hold and we all hope it remains with us until after 18 June.
The first session at the Maccabi Netanya training ground was impressive and it was clear the lads were acclimatising well to the conditions after their week in Antalya. For myself and Scott, our attire may have been suitable for FA representatives but it wasn’t suitable for the 35 degree heat. Not all members of the media decided to wear trousers like us, though.
The session kicked off what was a pretty hectic first day. After taking a few snaps of training, we had to guide a some players to the watching press corps, many of whom have followed the side throughout this and other campaigns.
I also picked up a couple of interviews pitchside for TheFA.com, and while I spoke to Jordan Henderson and was sweating even more than the skipper, he told me the heat was not posing any problems for the players.
“We're getting used to it now having been out in Turkey for a week,” said the Liverpool man. “Training went well, so hopefully we can carry that on for the first game.”
While there are a few Reds in the England team, he’ll also be facing another one in the Italian side on Wednesday – Fabio Borini.
“He's a very good player,” added Jordan. “He's got good movement so we have to get tight to him and stop him from shooting.”
After uploading a few of my photos to the England Facebook page
in the wi-fi equipped team coach on the way back to our base camp, we had another special arrival at the hotel.
Over the course of the campaign – indeed all campaigns I’ve been a part of – I’ve taken photos at training and various behind the scenes opportunities. So, similar to Denmark, I produced a mosaic of images that the whole group can remember the experience by. It was printed up on canvas locally and no sooner was it delivered than I started getting some of the lads asking for a copy.
Following lunch we were off doing more interviews and press. FATV’s Jon Dyson filmed me interviewing Jack Butland and Jason Lowe, before Scott and I took the pair over to the adjacent golf club where the rest of the media were waiting.
Both had a load of official – and unofficial – photos taken, while they each sat down with the newspaper journos for in-depth chats looking ahead to the opener. I think the way they spoke impressed the press-pack; two bright young lads who just love being involved with England.
It’s a trait shared by the whole squad, and each player is just desperate for their friends to succeed. There is a real belief throughout the side that they can achieve something special in Israel and, after nine consecutive wins without conceding a goal, why wouldn’t a team have that confidence?
I’ll continue these blogs throughout the tournament and hopefully offer an insight into the England team set-up and what’s going on here in Israel. If you have any questions or would like to get in contact, you can follow me on Twitter @jamiebradbury or email editor@TheFA.com.