Football: Hope for the future: Jon Culley previews football's European Under-18 Championships, which begin today

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The Independent Online
A GLIMPSE into England's football future may be something to avoid given that a place in next year's World Cup finals is not certain to be part of it. However, the next eight days could provide evidence that beyond the gloom lie brighter times.

Starting today and ending with the final at the City Ground, Nottingham, next Sunday, England plays host to the deciding stages of the European Under-18 Championships. What is more, fanciful notion though it may seem to some, a home win appears to be an authentic possibility.

The England squad draws without apology on the stream of much-heralded talent emerging at Manchester United and Leeds, the FA Youth Cup finalists of last season, who between them provided half of the original 18 players. Several of the squad have tasted action in the Premier League; another, Leicester City's Julian Joachim, can already boast a goal at Wembley, in the First Division play-off final, and another that was a contender for the BBC Goal of the Season.

There are also four players from Tottenham, even without the now over-aged Nick Barmby and, in the view at least of the manager, Ted Powell, the combination comes close to the dream formula of technical skill, as possessed by such as Joachim and Jamie Forrester of Leeds, allied to the traditional English values of team work and collective endeavour.

Powell possibly needs more introduction than some of his players, particularly those who paraded their abilities before 60,000 spectators over the two legs of the Youth Cup final.

A former schoolteacher who scaled the FA coaching ladder, Powell arrived in his job last November via a route that included the captaincy of the Great Britain Olympic team, the managership of Wycombe Wanderers and a spell as national coach of Malawi.

'It is difficult to make comparisons with previous years but my view is that the group is very good,' Powell said. 'There are a lot of very promising youngsters and the results since I took over have been excellent.

'We beat Switzerland 7-2, drew 1-1 in Spain, then beat the Danes 4-2 at Stoke and 5-0 in Denmark. We play a passing game emphasising quality in all we do and we must have a genuine chance of winning the championship.'

England meet Spain in the third of their group games, at Walsall on Thursday evening. This afternoon their opponents are France at Stoke. They face the Netherlands at Walsall on Tuesday.

Portugal, to whom England lost in the semi-finals last time, Hungary, Romania and Turkey, the holders, contest the other group.

In 1996, England hosts the senior European Championship, and this week's tournament may be an indicator of sorts. Players mature at varying stages and just how many will still be at the top of their grade three years from now cannot confidently be forecast.

Comparison might be made with the last England team to win the corresponding championship, in 1980, when Poland were beaten 2-1 in the final in Leipzig by a side consisting of Mark Kendall, Neal Banfield, David Barnes, Andy Peake, Tommy Caton, Steve McKenzie, Terry Connor, Mark Hateley, Gary Mabbutt, Paul Allen and Colin Pates, with Terry Gibson and Tom English the substitutes. All of them established senior professional careers while two, Hateley and Mabbutt, went on to gain full England recognition.

Can the class of '93 match that? 'I would think,' Powell said, 'that there is every possibility.'

ENGLAND SQUAD: Chris Day (Tottenham), Andy Marshall (Norwich), Sol Campbell (Tottenham), Chris Casper, Gary Neville (both Man Utd), Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler (both Leeds Utd), Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt (both Man Utd), Darren Caskey (Tottenham), Robbie Fowler (Liverpool), Kevin Gallen (QPR), Julian Joachim (Leicester), Jamie Forrester (Leeds Utd), Mark Warren (Nottingham Forest), Danny Hill (Tottenham), Robert Bowman, Noel Whelan (both Leeds).