As England sealed their place as group winners with victory over Norway in Chesterfield, becoming a seeded side in the play-offs for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship, Stuart Pearce was keen to stress how much his players had to learn. "It's important that I don't elevate these players to a god-like status or write them off too soon. An even shift and steady progression is more beneficial," he said, as they avoided the likes of Italy, France and Germany in Friday's draw. "To win seven out of eight games isn't easy, but we know we're going to have to play better next month to get to the finals."
The head coach also relayed the belief that if young talents progress, they will have the opportunity to link up with the senior squad. That is a concept Liverpool's Raheem Sterling has benefitted from this week, bypassing the Under-21 level prior to a full call-up. "There is a pathway now for any young players that can take them from the Under-19s a couple of days ago to the seniors," Pearce added.
England will be hoping to make it four major tournaments on the spin, but it is a sobering thought that a portion of this team will be cut if Pearce has his way; he has already pleaded with Roy Hodgson to contemplate releasing the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Butland for the two-legged ties next month. There still seems to be confusion as to the function of this tier: to nurture or to win, especially as Pearce bemoaned the "shallow pool" he has to choose from.
With both sides through, this was a dour affair. The only way in which the near-capacity crowd, who had been lulled into a false sense of excitement with offensive formations, were to be treated to a goal was via a defensive mistake. It came from the visitors, with Connor Wickham a grateful recipient, sliding an effort beyond Arild Ostbo. Havard Nielsen hit the bar for Norway while supporters were more bothered about monitoring the whereabouts of a Mexican wave. That sadly told its own story: this was a means to an end.
England (4-2-3-1): Steele; Kelly (Clyne, h-t), Caulker, Bennett, Rose; Shelvey, Henderson; Marshall, Waghorn (Zaha, 77), Ince; Wickham (Lees, 77). Substitutes not used Amos (gk), Smith, Kane, Sordell. Scorer: Wickham 43
Norway (4-1-2-3): Ostbo; Elabdellaoui, Strandberg, Rogne, Hedenstad, Ulvestad (De Lanley, 55); Konradsen, Singh; Berisha (Skjelvik, 87), Berget (Bakenga, 67), Nielsen. Substitutes not used Nyland (gk), Nation, Linnes, Johansen. | Referee S Vincic (Slovenia)