Pearce: 'Maybe the performances in the first two games have really cost us'

Stuart Pearce, England's Under-21 manager, claimed his team had given their best performance in three group matches after they were beaten by the Czech Republic's two late goals last night. He insisted there were lessons to learn, but declined to elaborate on what they were.

"We're disappointed because once you get your noses in front at that stage, you hope to see it through," Pearce said. "You have to keep focused. We showed that against Spain. We probably should have done better at the end. But we have to take it on the chin, learn, and go on next season. There are some real lessons to be learnt, that's for sure. Maybe the performances in the first two games cost us."

It was the eighth defeat in 51 matches for the Under-21s under Pearce, who had led England to a semi-final and final in his two previous tournaments. He will sign a new two-year contract shortly and is widely expected to take charge of the British Olympic squad next year, in the middle of the next European Championship qualifying competition, which begins against Azerbaijan in September.

"We felt if we'd won the game today the momentum would have carried us on all the way through to the final," he said. "But credit to the Czechs. They are a good side, strong in qualification, very dogged and difficult to break down. When the draw came out, some people maybe didn't realise the magnitude of this group. There's a team [Belarus] who've come out of the other group after losing two games."

Last night he refused to use the absence of key players like Jack Wilshere as an excuse, but he has often in the past made the point that England should take their best possible squads to under-age tournaments. "At the moment it has no relevance to me," he said. "My only concern is 22 players who are hurting in that dressing-room. I will wait until the dust settles to report to Fabio [Capello] and see how these players came out of this tournament. Ten of them are still available for the next one and we will go on from there."

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