England's weakened team risk flop


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The Independent Online

There is some entertaining footage on the Football Association's website which captures the arrival of the England squad on Tuesday for the Under-20s World Cup in Colombia when they were greeted by a dance display from the Colombian police force. After initial bemusement most of the squad acquiesce to the invitations from the female officers to join them and the arrivals hall at Medellin airport improbably becomes one large couples' dancefloor.

Sadly for all concerned, Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21s coach who is also part of the Under-20s coaching team, remained a wallflower throughout. The sight of Psycho salsa-ing with a Colombian law enforcer would have been one of the sporting highlights of the summer.

The Under-20s World Cup has given the likes of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas their first taste of international tournaments, but it has never been taken seriously in England and despite the FA's efforts that looks unlikely to change.

With respect to the 21 young men who have travelled to Colombia, they do not represent the cream of English football's crop. There are a few names such as Matt Phillips, the Blackpool striker, and Reece Brown, brother of Wes, the only Manchester United representative in the squad. Apart from that, there is the distinct feeling that this was the best squad the FA could cobble together in the circumstances. Clubs are now well into their pre-season and reluctant to release players.

Another problem is that the Under-20s World Cup is not included in the Fifa calendar which means that clubs are not obliged to release them. The coach Brian Eastick had his eye on the likes of Jay Spearing (Liverpool), Benik Afobe (Arsenal) and George Thorne (West Bromwich Albion) but could not secure their release.

This squad is seen as a vast improvement on the one that went to the last Under-20s World Cup in Egypt two years ago, when they managed only a draw with Uzbekistan and defeats to Ghana and Uruguay. However, if the current team cannot beat North Korea in their first game tomorrow, not much hope will be held out for them. This year, England are in a tough group with Argentina and Mexico.

This is a difficult stage in these young players' careers. This World Cup will be a welcome distraction, especially the dancing police officers, but first they need a good result against North Korea.