Blake slams 'negative' criticism of England

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The England Under-19 coach Noel Blake launched an impassioned defence of the nation's young players after his side qualified for the last four of the European Championship.

Blake insisted that England, who will take on Spain in Saint-Lo tomorrow afternoon for a place in Friday's final, can still nurture players with the potential to compete at the highest level following the senior side's mediocre performance at the World Cup in South Africa.

"I have had a bellyful in the last few weeks of people saying young English footballers aren't good enough and can't play football the right way," said Blake, who had seen the Premier League trio Jack Rodwell, Jack Wilshere and Phil Jones elevated to the Under-21s instead of joining his squad in Normandy. "We have got some good young players in our country. We know we're lacking in depth, there's no question about that, but I don't think we praise our own players enough.

"As a nation, we're very good at telling people what they are no good at and what they can't do. Sometimes we need to highlight what we are good at and what we can do. Because if you keep telling people they can't do something, they end up believing it and, no matter who they are, their confidence will drop. That's just human nature.

"The more you tell people what they are good at – and be honest with them – they will start to believe it. I'm not saying my players are the finished articles. They all need to improve and we know that. But we have got some decent players and it's time people acknowledged that."

A 1-1 draw with France in Saint-Lo on Saturday turned out to be enough to qualify, along with the hosts, as Group A runners-up. France had taken a deserved lead in the 56th minute when Lyon striker Yannis Tafer was left unmarked and headed home.

The Aston Villa forward Nathan Delfouneso spurned two great chances for England, but Matt Phillips of League Two Wycombe Wanderers got an injury-time equaliser as he scrambled home a rebound after his initial header had been saved. England reached the last four at the expense of the Netherlands, who lost 1-0 to Austria.

Meanwhile, the Football Association maintains that no decision has yet been taken on which English coaches could be in line to join Fabio Capello's back-room team alongside Stuart Pearce and Ray Clemence.

Following England's disappointing display at the World Cup, the FA hopes to groom a number of English coaches as possible future national team managers. The FA has rejected speculation that a shortlist has already been drawn up. "Fabio volunteered he wanted another English coach to join his set-up when we met him recently," the Club England managing director, Adrian Bevington, said.

"Fabio was clear he didn't want us to offer names immediately, instead stressing he wanted more time to consider who it should be, then discuss it in more detail with Sir Trevor Brooking during the first week of August."

Three to watch: Spain's main threats

Daniel Pacheco

The promising Liverpool midfielder has been the outstanding player in the competition so far and is top scorer with three goals. The 19-year-old has dominated games, rather in the manner of Xavi for Spain's senior team with quick passing and movement, but his range has also drawn comparisons with Xabi Alonso. Made seven appearances for Liverpool last season, including in the Champions League.

Thiago Alcantara

Spain's World Cup winning squad contained nine players from Barcelona's famous La Masia academy – the Under-19s have seven, including Alcántara. The attacking midfielder has already made two appearances for the Barça first-team and scored in a 4-0 La Liga victory over Racing Santander. Alcántara was born in Italy, and is the son of Brazilian 1994 World Cup winner Maizinho but has a Spanish mother.

Rodrigo Moreno

The striker was once hailed "the future of Real Madrid and the Spanish national team," by former Spain coach Inaki Saez. At present playing for Real Madrid Castilla in Segunda Division B, "Rodri" can operate on the left wing or up front, and scored the winner against Croatia in Spain's opening game. He possesses a cultured left foot and pace, which will be a worry to England tomorrow.