Football: Powell's embarrassment of attacking riches: England manager relishes the opportunity to build confidence and develop gifted players for full national squad. Phil Shaw reports

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The Independent Online
WHEN it comes to exciting, goalscoring forwards, England are spoiled for choice. Unfortunately for Graham Taylor, this unusual state of affairs applies not to his beleaguered senior side but to the squad for the European Under-18 Championship finals to be staged in the Midlands over the next week.

When the host nation launch the eight-team tournament against France at Stoke tomorrow, their manager, Ted Powell, will be choosing from an embarrassment of attacking riches. He nominates Paul Scholes, a 'ginger-haired livewire' from Manchester United, as the player with the greatest potential to emulate Ryan Giggs, but such are the talents at his disposal that Scholes will be asked to strike from midfield.

Candidates for the front roles include Julian Joachim, a veritable veteran who averaged a goal every other game for Leicester in the First Division last season; Jamie Forrester and Noel Whelan, who combined effectively in Leeds's FA Youth Cup triumph in May and already have Premier League experience; Robbie Fowler, of whom Liverpool have great hopes; and Kevin Gallen, who hit 64 goals for Queen's Park Rangers' youth team last term.

Taylor watched the England squad go through their paces yesterday at the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall in rural Shropshire. Powell, who captained Sutton United in their famous FA Cup tie with Don Revie's Leeds in 1970 and has a varied managerial CV which includes spells with Wycombe Wanderers and the Malawi national team, believes he has several future internationals in his charge.

'This is an exceptionally gifted group, and I'll be very disappointed if a number of them didn't eventually make it to the full national XI,' he said. 'That's the important question - whether we can produce players who can go on to that level. We can't work in isolation. We're part of a chain.

'But a lot depends what happens in the clubs, because I know some of the lads don't get much coaching after youth level. Some are not encouraged to pass to each other but to hit balls into channels, which isn't appropriate for international football.'

Powell's England, captained by the Tottenham defender and former FA National School pupil Darren Caskey, will eschew the 'hurly burly' and 'aerial combat' he sees in too many junior games. They will 'get the ball down and play'. He added: 'Winning the Youth Cup, for example, helps build confidence, but the main point of youth football is to develop players.'

Recent results - which include 7-2 and 4-2 home victories over Switzerland and Denmark respectively, a 1-1 draw in Spain and a 5-0 win in Denmark last week - suggest that Powell's feeling that England have a good chance of winning the tournament for the first time since the 1980 team of Gary Mabbutt and Mark Hateley is far from fanciful.

The drubbing of the Danes was all the more impressive in that it was achieved without five players from Leeds and four from Manchester United. Both clubs, concerned that their best prospects risked premature 'burn-out' or stress fractures by playing too much football, now face FA charges for withdrawing them from the start of England's preparations.

Powell has been pleased by the condition and attitude of Scholes and company. However, their late arrival means he has spent valuable time assessing their fitness levels when he would rather have been working on strategy and technique.

With three stiff group matches in five days, England will need to be at their sharpest and strongest if they are to contest next Sunday's final at Nottingham. Turkey, the holders, are in the other half of the draw, as are Portugal, who have had notable success in translating teenage potential into international quality. Yet both fared poorly in this year's World Championship in Australia, when England finished third.

'This tournament offers a good chance to compare our top young players against the best in Europe,' Powell said. 'I just hope our boys play as well as they've been practising.'

ENGLAND SQUAD (European Under-18 Championship, 18-25 July): Day, Campbell, Caskey, (all Tottenham Hotspur), Casper, Scholes, Butt, G Neville (all Manchester United), Sharp, Tinkler, Forrester, Bowman, Whelan (all Leeds United), Fowler (Liverpool), Gallen (Queen's Park Rangers), Joachim (Leicester), Marshall (Norwich City).

EUROPEAN UNDER-18 CHAMPIONSHIP Fixtures: Sunday 18 July (3.0): Group One: Portugal v Romania (Lincoln City FC); Hungary v Turkey (Sheffield Wednesday FC). Group Two: Netherlands v Spain (Walsall FC); England v France (Stoke City FC). Tuesday 20 July (7.15): Group One: Portugal v Hungary (Lincoln); Romania v Turkey (Nottingham Forest FC). Group Two: Netherlands v England (Walsall); Spain v France (Crewe Alexandra FC). Thursday 22 July (7.15): Group One: Turkey v Portugal (Notts County FC); Romania v Hungary (Derby County FC). Group Two: Spain v England (Walsall); France v Netherlands (Stoke). Sunday 25 July: Third-place play-off (1.0); Final (4.0) (both Nottingham Forest FC).