Pearce vows to take all his top players for next tilt at U-21 glory

England Under-21 manager is anxious to avoid a repeat of this summer's early exit
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The Independent Football

Stuart Pearce insists he must be allowed to take his best players to the next European Under-21 Championship if England are not to suffer a repeat of their early exit from this summer's tournament.

Pearce's side began what they hope will prove another successful qualifying campaign with a 6-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan on Thursday night. But the head coach was already concerned about what could be another club-versus-country row in the run-up to the 2013 tournament in Israel, after losing his battle to take the likes of Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll to Denmark in June.

"I learnt that you can't go and take the best in Europe on with five of your key players missing – that's vitally important," Pearce said. "The likes of Carroll, [Micah] Richards, Wilshere, Martin Kelly – that's difficult to do. Especially when you see the Spanish turn up with [Juan] Mata and Bojan [Krkic]. We have to learn the lesson from that."

Pearce lost the services of several key men for Thursday's Group 8 win at Vicarage Road, with captain Phil Jones called up to the senior squad and Danny Welbeck, Kyle Walker, Emmanuel Frimpong and Kelly all withdrawing through injury. However, England did not need them as a new-look side romped home, inspired by midfielder Henri Lansbury, who scored twice and set up both of Craig Dawson's two debut goals.

Pearce said of Lansbury, who was part of the squad in Denmark: "Henri, in some ways, came of age this summer. You have to look at these young players and sometimes it takes some longer than others to come make a stamp at under-21 level.

"Henri's one of those. He's been patient, his training was fantastic during the summer. We saw a different Henri Lansbury, a more mature young man. We were expecting a great deal of him tonight and he's delivered."

Lansbury joined West Ham from Arsenal on a season-long loan on transfer deadline day, and Pearce added: "The more players that we've got out actually playing for clubs, the better it is for me. For me as a national coach, it's ideal. As we've seen with the likes of [Theo] Walcott, the under-21s have had to supplement the lack of club football in some ways."

It looked ominous for Azerbaijan as early as the fifth minute when an unchallenged Dawson headed in Lansbury's corner. But, other than a deflected Nathan Delfouneso effort, Pearce's youngsters began to demonstrate the kind of failings that had cost their predecessors dear. There was a lack of technique on the ball, including poor touch and control, although they were given enough space to get away with it.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain produced some exciting wing play, setting up England's second after 21 minutes when his cross was hooked home acrobatically by the retreating Lansbury. It was 3-0 on the stroke of half-time when a neat exchange between Jordan Henderson and Matthew Briggs finished with the former curling a fierce strike home from 25 yards.

Pearce withdrew Connor Wickham and Delfouneso for Martyn Waghorn and local hero Marvin Sordell midway through the half. The latter should have scored a fourth when he cushioned a volley just wide but it did not matter as, minutes later, Umarov parried Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross straight to Lansbury, who fired in his second. Jonjo Shelvey picked up a needless yellow and Eshgin Guliyev left the field on a stretcher before Dawson glanced home his second.

Meanwhile, Gary Neville believes that not even Sir Alex Ferguson would have helped the England seniors win last year's World Cup. Fabio Capello's side were humiliated by Germany, losing 4-1 in the second round in South Africa, with Neville claiming the squad lacked quality.

The former Manchester United defender, however, feels Ferguson would have struggled to push England any further. Neville said: "Ferguson may have got more out of the squad. But the reality is, would we have beaten Spain in the last World Cup? No, because they were better than England."

With 85 appearances to his name , Neville is England's most-capped right-back, but has described playing for his country as "a wasted opportunity". Only once during his career did England progress beyond the last eight – the Euro '96 semi-final when they again lost to Germany – and then Neville was not involved in that game.

"I loved playing for England, but we've fallen short and I've contributed to that over the last 10 years as much as anyone," he said.