Platt looks to fulfil his European ambition in style

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The England Under-21 coach, David Platt, has urged his side not to throw away the advantage gained by their dramatic win in Germany as they try to clinch a place in the play-offs for the 2002 European Under-21 Championship finals.

Their 2-1 victory over the Germans in Freiburg was overshadowed by the stunning five-goal World Cup qualifying win the following day by the senior side in Munich. But it was still another indication of the depth of young talent currently emerging and put England in pole position to reach the last 16 play-offs in November.

Now Platt wants his side to ensure there are no slip-ups when they tackle the group leaders Greece in front of a 28,000 full house at Blackburn's Ewood Park tonight, with a win guaranteeing England's place in the next phase.

"We are in the driving seat for qualifying now," Platt said. "The win in Germany was tremendous and we followed it up by showing our professionalism over 90 minutes to gain victory over Albania. But what we can't do after getting such a magnificent result in Freiburg is to allow the advantage to slip away.

"You have got to do the business again and again. We know if we win we are through to the next stage and I think the message we have got to get out to our players is that the situation is in our own hands."

Luke Young, sent off in England's previous 3-1 defeat to the Greeks, is free from suspension for the return match and, although Platt has been hit by the withdrawal of six players, he received a boost when the West Ham striker Jermain Defoe declared himself fit to join the squad.

Defoe has scored four goals in his last five Under-21 internationals and his presence will be a lift, particularly with his strike partner Francis Jeffers out with an ankle injury.

The Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Roy Millar has lost the services of two injured forwards, Warren Feeney and Maurice Harkin, for tonight's European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Malta in Valletta. He has called up two players from the Nationwide Conference – Ryan Zico Black of Morecambe and Terry McFlynn of Woking – plus Richard Graham of Queen's Park Rangers.

The Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Don Givens will award five new caps for tonight's qualifier with Cyprus in Longford. He has called up the Celtic trio of Liam Miller, Michael Doyle and Jim Goodwin as well as the Nottingham Forest pair, John Thompson and Andy Reid. The Manchester United reserve centre-back John O'Shea takes over the captaincy of the Republic.