They're young, they're enthusiastic but are they good enough? The answer should be provided later today when England's Under-20 side face Egypt in their second match of the World Youth Cup knowing that defeat will almost certainly mean an early exit from the 24-nation tournament barring a lucky break in their final group fixture against Colombia.
Last Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Japan left the coach Les Reed's youngsters bottom of their group with a mountain to climb, but Reed is confident his hugely inexperienced squad can make a good impression against an Egyptian side who are bound to have the majority of the support in the Al-Maktoum Stadium in central Dubai.
"I still think we can get through. There's a lot team spirit and character in this team," Reed said. "It's certainly not over. Obviously our players are much younger and less experienced than a lot of the other teams."
Having been refused permission by several Premiership and Nationwide clubs to select a number of players who would have automatically made the squad, Reed and his staff decided to build for the future by going for a crop of 17-year-olds - five to be precise - who can gain valuable know-how for the next event in 2005.
Theoretically, Reed could have had an entire squad of more experienced players: the likes of Carlton Cole, Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose. Reed nevertheless did his best on the eve of today's fixture, another sell-out if only because all 12,000 tickets have again been bought up and given away free by the sheikhs, to be as upbeat as possible.
Today's opponents have fond memories of the last World Youth Cup when they finished third behind Argentina two years ago, but the Egyptians were on the back foot for most of the 0-0 draw with Colombia in their first match in the Emirates.
The young Pharaohs' 3-5-2 formation combines defensive discipline with industry, and with almost all the players coming from the country's three biggest clubs, teamwork is not a problem either. Goalscoring might be. Expect therefore another low-scoring, cat-and-mouse encounter with so much at stake for both sides.Reuse content