Pearce sticks to his guns despite 'doom and gloom'

England Under-21 manager draws on Italia '90 memories as his side face must-win game with Czech Republic
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The Independent Football

Stuart Pearce, the iron full-back, is not for turning, which is unlikely to surprise those who know him.

His own iconic tournament, the 1990 World Cup, may have involved England in a tactical U-turn after starting so poorly that The Sun screamed "Bring them home!" but his Under-21 side is set to have only minor changes in personnel and none in approach for the final group match against the Czech Republic tomorrow, which they must win to qualify for the semi-finals.

Pearce revealed yesterday that at Italia '90, when England returned to the dressing-room after the dismal opening game against the Republic of Ireland, one of the questions manager Bobby Robson asked was: "Where was Stuart Pearce?" The real one, he meant.

A similar question might have been asked by Pearce himself of Jack Rodwell and Danny Rose, two among those who have not lived up to their billing so far. Both are in danger of losing their place and Jordan Henderson, who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday, knows he must concentrate hard rather than start dreaming about a Liverpool debut against Sunderland in August.

The way Pearce spoke about Daniel Sturridge suggested he will stay out wide, with Scott Sinclair hoping to come in on the left and Henri Lansbury a contender for an attacking midfield role. The latter pair livened England up when appearing as substitutes during their second successive draw, against Ukraine, on Wednesday.

There has been much criticism of England's approach but manager Pearce insisted yesterday: "I tried to win the first two games, strangely enough. We can play better but I have to put it in perspective. We've played 12 competitive games in this tournament and lost one. There's a bit of doom and gloom, but we have to wait until the whole scenario has panned out."

Back in 1990 – and at last summer's World Cup, when Pearce was assisting Fabio Capello – England scraped the win they needed in the third group match, fostering the manager's belief that it is better to have to go all-out for the win than to play for a draw. "I'm not so sure English teams are particularly good at defending draws. We have to be on the front foot. If we win, the momentum changes, very much in our favour," he said. "The manner in which we win could galvanise us."

Sinclair, another member of the squad checking the Premier League fixtures with huge anticipation after his hat-trick for Swansea in the play-off final, has been disappointed not to have started a game in Denmark, having being given squad No 11. "I've had to be ready to come off the bench," he said. "That's football. Sometimes you get picked, sometimes you don't."

Should it all go wrong, Pearce will expect no mercy. "I've never seen a journalist suggest they sack all the players. But I will be level-headed, look at it as a learning curve and try to move on and take the next squad of players to the next tournament."

He intends to do that with the England Under-20s at the World Cup in Colombia next month, leaving little doubt that he will sign the new two-year contract on offer as Under-21 manager. Yesterday he also admitted he would like to take the logical step of leading the Great Britain team at the Olympics next year: "It would be a fantastic opportunity," he said.

England (probable,4-2-3-1): Fielding (Derby); Walker (Tottenham), Smalling (Manchester Utd), Jones (Blackburn), Bertrand (Chelsea); Mancienne (Hamburg), Henderson (Liverpool); Sturridge (Chelsea), Lansbury (Arsenal), Sinclair (Chelsea); Welbeck (Manchester Utd).

Czech Republic (probable, 4-1-4-1): Vaclik; Celustka, Suchy, Mazuch, Lecjaks; Gecov; Dockal, Kadlec, Moravek, Hlousek; Pekhart.

Referee P Tagliavento (Italy)

Results and Fixtures

Group A

Results: 11 June: Belarus 2-0 Iceland, Denmark 0-1 Switzerland.

14 June: Switzerland 2-0 Iceland, Denmark 2-1 Belarus.

Remaining fixtures: Today Iceland v Denmark, Switzerland v Belarus.

Group B

Results: 12 June: Czech Republic 2-1 Ukraine, Spain 1-1 England.

Yesterday: Czech Republic 0-2 Spain, Ukraine 0-0 England.

Remaining fixtures: Tomorrow England v Czech Republic (7.45pm), Ukraine v Spain.