England seek to ease Under-21 pain by winning race to host 2007 finals

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The Independent Online

After England's failure for the seventh time in nine attempts to reach the finals of the European Under-21 Championship, the Football Association will attempt to achieve in the committee rooms of Uefa what their young players cannot do on the pitch.

In an attempt to increase the profile of the finals, Uefa are shifting the schedule to avoid the World Cup and senior European Championship. Thus there will be another Under-21 finals in 2007 and England are bidding to stage it. The unique selling point is a final at the new Wembley. A decision is expected on 15 December.

Even if they do not succeed in hosting the finals, there is optimism over England's prospects of participating. Only four of the players who were narrowly beaten by France in Nancy in the second leg of the qualifying play-off on Tuesday will not be eligible next season: Gary O'Neil, Michael Dawson, Carlton Cole and Dean Ashton. A new team will be built around the talents of Scott Carson, Anton Ferdinand, Aaron Lennon and, senior call-ups permitting, Darren Bent. "We'll be very strong next year," said the coach Peter Taylor.

When he reviews the campaign Taylor may feel it was lost in Hull, ironically his home club ground, in March. Having fought back from a goal down, England conceded a last-minute equaliser in drawing 2-2 with Germany, who went on to win the group. That meant England faced a seeded team in the play-offs and drew France, a team now unbeaten in 22 games.

The coach of England's senior side, Sven Goran Eriksson, will wait until the outcome of the World Cup finals draw next month before deciding upon England's opponents for their three remaining preparation games. Eriksson will learn the make-up of England's group at the draw in Leipzig on 9 December and will then be able to confirm not only the squad's training camp but also the warm-up games.

Three friendlies are pencilled into the schedule - one on 1 March and two more in late May and early June after the World Cup squad has been chosen.

Eriksson said: "Of course we are looking at our options, but the thing that makes the most sense is to wait to see who we are drawn with in Germany.

"That way we can pick the teams to play who will be most useful in terms of building towards the finals."

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