VIDEO: 'There's a lot at stake'
Friday, 03 September, 2010
Under-21s Coach relishing the prospect of a must-win double-header.
Click here to watch FATV's interview with Stuart Pearce.
Stuart Pearce says his England Under-21s players are looking lively ahead of their crunch meeting with Portugal in Barcelos on Friday night.
The Three Lions Coach is hoping victory in the penultimate Group Nine Qualifier will become the first of four wins in the next month that will help springboard his side into next summer’s European Championship in Denmark.
After guiding the last group of Under-21s players to the Final in Sweden a year ago, where they finished runners-up to Germany, he’s determined to take this team one step further. However, with two must-win matches coming up, Pearce acknowledges just how difficult it is to qualify for the Finals of this UEFA tournament.
“When the group was drawn we knew Portugal away was going to be a really tough game,” he told TheFA.com on the eve of the Portuguese encounter. “The fact we have to come here to win the game puts even more emphasis on it.
“There are a lot of teams that were in the Finals a year ago who have found the transition into a new campaign very, very difficult. Three of those teams, including the holders, are out already, the other four need maximum points to go through and we’re in that group.”
The objective for Pearce’s men is clear. After defeat in their last Qualifier to Greece in March, three points are needed against Portugal followed by another victory over Lithuania in Colchester on Tuesday afternoon to give them any chance of making it to the play-offs for Euro 2011.
Anything less and their dream is over, but Pearce is confident that his team, despite missing a few experienced players, can produce what is needed to overcome the first hurdle on Friday against a familiar Portuguese side.
“In some ways you’d rather come here knowing you’ve got to win. Even a draw against Greece in March would have still meant we needed to win our last two matches.”
Pearce explained: “The thing with the Portuguese, you know how they play and that they’ve got a set system and have freedom within that system. Usually they play a 4-3-3 and they have talent to keep the ball and pass the ball.
“We’ve had them in the group this time, but also in the last qualification campaign, and so far we’ve had three very tight games against them. We’ve come out on top in two of them and got a draw in Portugal last time here. On that occasion a draw was good enough, now we have to win this game.
“They are in a difficult position too, relying on Greece to lose to Macedonia on Saturday afternoon if they are to progress, and they’ve got to beat us as well, so there’s a lot at stake, but we’re buoyed for the game. Whenever England play Portugal there’s always something extra at stake.”
Pearce continued: “It’ll be an interesting game, the Portuguese are a good side, but we’ve got some talent in the group, the team have trained really well this week, so I’m looking forward to the game.
“It’s a bit disappointing losing the players we have through injury or illness. We’ve lost the likes of Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell, among others, plus Scott Loach has gone back with the Seniors, but it’s important for the players coming in that when they have an opportunity they take it.
“From what I’ve seen in training I’ve been very excited by their contribution and they seem very tight as a group.”
He added: “We’ve come to the situation where we’ve played six matches, lost only one, but we need two wins out of two. And we know if we’re good enough and get those six points this week, we need to do it again in October and win a two-legged play-off.
“It’s certainly a difficult competition to qualify for but for the players it’ll give them that little edge and hopefully it’ll stand them in good stead for the future.”