At every previous tournament he has been to as player or manager, Stuart Pearce has woken up the morning after the night of England's opening game with a sense of anticlimax; each time (1990, 1992, 1996 and 2007) after all the build-up and patriotic hype, the result has been a disappointing draw. On Monday night he was able to savour a victory at last, albeit a scruffy one in defeating Finland Under-21s 2-1 after playing with 10 men for an hour.
If the mood at breakfast in England's seaside hotel was generally buoyant, Chelsea's Michael Mancienne will have been subdued over his cereal, aware that a bad error in conceding a penalty and receiving a red card left his team-mates with what an unsympathetic Pearce called "a mountain to climb". Well, a sand dune anyway, up which they duly scrambled with bulldog determination thanks to a fine headed goal by Manchester City's Micah Richards.
For one so young, Richards' international career is already chequered. He had barely made his bow at Under-21 level in 2006 before being summoned into the senior team for an excellent debut as England's youngest-ever defender against the Netherlands three months later. After missing that summer's Under-21 Championship in 2007 through injury, he became the then England manager Steve McClaren's regular right-back, but Fabio Capello has been less impressed, dropping him from first the team and then the squad. "He is young and not ready for the seniors now," was Capello's comment recently.
The feeling was that Richards might have enjoyed too much too soon. On his own admission: "I think I have been up and down this season. My aim is to get back into the seniors, but if I have to play at this level a few more times than I will to prove myself again. I am just trying to get my performances back up to my standard, then hopefully I will be in with a shout."
Having played under Pearce at City, Richards will have been less surprised than other team members to see and hear the manager's uncompromising streak surface again on Monday. Lee Cattermole, England's other scorer, said: "The gaffer wasn't very pleased at all after the match and he let us know that.
"He wasn't happy with our performance and neither were we, although I would say a lot of that goes down to the pitch, which was difficult and very dry. The gaffer told us in no uncertain terms that he expects better and we will have to deliver a lot better if we are going to get past Germany and Spain."
Remember the name
Mesut Ozil Werder Bremen and Germany
Although admitting that he should have scored near the end of the goalless draw against Spain on Monday, the gifted Bremen playmaker caught the eye. Playing further forward than normal, he will have impressed Joachim Löw, the watching coach of the German senior squad, who has already awarded him a full cap.Reuse content