England young guns: Spain may be the favourites – again – but don't rule out Pearce's boys

With Germany, Italy and the Netherlands failing to qualify, England have reason to hope. By Steve Tongue in Brejning
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The Independent Online

Who's playing?

Two groups of four, with the top two from each qualifying for the semi-finals on Wednesday week. In Group A are the hosts Denmark, plus their opponents tonight Switzerland, as well as Belarus and Iceland. In Group B, which looks the tougher of the two, England play Spain tomorrow night (7.45pm) after the Czech Republic meet Ukraine.

What about Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands and the like?

All eliminated, which means none of the winners of the last four tournaments will be taking part. It emphasises how the quick turnover of players can change a country's fortunes from one competition to the next. In 2009 Germany were the outstanding team, beating a weakened England 4-0 in the final and immediately promoting half-a-dozen players to the senior squad which reached the World Cup semi-final 12 months later. This time, however, they won only three group matches out of eight.



Who are the favourites?

Spain, by common consent, though that may be based in part on their seniors' reputation as holders of the World Cup and European Championship. Two years ago, England beat them comfortably 2-0. The Czech Republic have to be fancied after achieving the best record in qualifying. But England are actually ranked No 1 in Europe at this level.



Any dangerous outsiders?

Belarus, along with Spain and England, have qualified for the second time running. Iceland scored a stunning 4-1 win over Germany in qualifying and looked impressive in coming from behind to beat England 2-1 at Preston in March.



It all sounds quite close then?

With only eight teams qualifying, it generally is, especially if the host country are strong. Denmark may be one of the weaker ones, but it is impossible to predict the four semi-finalists.

What is England's recent history?

In the Netherlands four years ago, there was a wild game against Serbia, with racial abuse from the latter's supporters and defeat in an epic penalty shoot-out by the hosts, 13-12 in the semi-final. Two years ago, England beat Finland and Spain, then held Germany at the group stage, before winning a semi-final against Sweden on penalties after squandering a 3-0 lead. In the final against Germany, they were well beaten.



How optimistic is Stuart Pearce?

Cautiously. He has admitted he does not know exactly how good this team can be, and is looking forward to finding out. After a semi-final and then a losing final under him it's clear what the aim is, though as usual England are without players, including Arsenal's Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs.



Who are England's key players?

Daniel Sturridge had a fine second half of the season on loan from Chelsea to Bolton. He and Danny Welbeck will be relied upon for goals while Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones will be under the spotlight. In goal, Frankie Fielding, who recently moved from Blackburn to Derby, needs to shine.

European Under-21 championship

Goalkeepers:

Frank Fielding        Derby County

Alex McCarthy        Reading

Jason Steele         Middlesbrough

Defenders:

Michael Mancienne        Hamburg

Ryan Bertrand        Chelsea

Chris Smalling        Man United

Phil Jones        Blackburn

Kyle Walker        Spurs

James Tomkins        West Ham

Midfielders:

Fabrice Muamba        Bolton W

Marc Albrighton        Aston Villa

Jordan Henderson        Liverpool

Jack Cork        Chelsea

Tom Cleverley        Man United

Henri Lansbury        Arsenal

Jack Rodwell verton

Danny Rose        Spurs

Forwards:

Danny Welbeck        Man United

Daniel Sturridge        Chelsea

Scott Sinclair        Swansea City

Nathan Delfouneso        Aston Villa

Connor Wickham        Ipswich

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