Pearce maps route to final as England keep momentum
Wednesday 24 June 2009
So far, surprisingly good. Stuart Pearce believes the England Under-21 squad he brought to the European Championship, depleted as it is, rates a notch higher than the one knocked out in the semi-finals two years ago, and now his young men have the opportunity to prove it by taking one giant step further.
Progress to the same stage has been demonstrably smoother. In 2007 the first two games against the Czech Republic and Italy were drawn and there was only one win, against a weakened Serbian side, before losing the epic semi-final shoot-out 13-12 to the Netherlands, hosts and eventual winners.
This time, it was England who by virtue of having won both opening matches – against Finland (2-1) and Spain (2-0) – were able to rest players in the final group match. Pearce shocked everyone on Monday night by leaving out 10 of them for a match against Germany of all people, yet still emerging with the better of a 1-1 draw that left his opposite number Horst Hrubesch furious.
The point ensured that England topped the group and could stay in their pleasant and convenient coastal headquarters here, 50 miles south of Gothenburg, where Friday's semi-final will be played against Sweden. Later the same evening, Germany will meet Italy Helsingborg.
"You can do no more than win the group and we knew we were in a really tough one," Pearce said. "I asked the players to keep the momentum going and also spelt out to them weeks ago that we could only win the tournament with [numbers] 1 to 23 contributing."
By the end of Monday night's game everybody had done; remarkably, all 23 players, including the three goalkeepers, have now taken part at some stage in this European Championship, with no apparent dropping off in team performance.
The emergence of a young talent is always a sight to gladden a manager's heart and in particular Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs and the equally versatile Jack Rodwell, of Everton, have both transferred this season's club form on to an international stage.
Rodwell, spotted by Everton aged six and in the first team at 16, was outstanding against Germany in his first start at this level (he still qualifies for England's Under-19s). "Rodwell is confident beyond his years," Pearce said. "He's so confident on the ball and you don't feel he's going to lose it."
Remember the name
Sebastian Giovinco, Juventus and Italy
It is heartening to know that the old adage still applies: if they're good enough, they're big enough. The 5ft 4in Giovinco, outstanding at the 2008 Olympics, is just the sort of player Italian critics are demanding be given a chance at senior level after the failure of the Azzurri to impress in the Confederations Cup in South Africa.
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