Under-21s show ambition to continue the groundwork

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The Independent Football

England's youngsters put the euphoria of their own heroics in Germany on ice yesterday as they prepared for the second leg of their vital European Championship mission.

An injury-time strike from Arsenal's Francis Jeffers gave David Platt's under-21 side a 2-1 win in Freiburg last Friday to set the scene for the seniors. They go back at work tonight at Middlesbrough's Riverside stadium to ensure that their hard work does not go to waste, when they take on Albania.

The win reduced the deficit on the Germans to two points with a game in hand. Victory over Albania – who beat Finland 3-0 on Friday – would put England into one of the top two.

Though the low average age of the senior squad would appear to hamper the ambitions of youngsters hoping to break into it, Platt says there is plenty of opportunity for those who impress. "Clearly, there is a route into the full squad," he said. "In Sven [Goran Eriksson], there is somebody in place who is keen and excited by the youth and what's coming through. But there is also the flip side of that.

"If you take David Seaman out of the equation, Nick Barmby is the oldest at 27 and everybody else is 23 or 24, and if you're not careful, you'll end up looking at it as a brick wall because the likes of Gerrard and Owen are going to be there for a long time."

Spirits were high as Platt put his players through their paces at Middlesbrough's training ground yesterday, but he will be forced into at least one change. Joe Cole, whose goal for so long looked likely to give his side victory in Freiburg, picked up a second yellow card and will join captain John Terry and Charlton defender Luke Young on the suspended list.

Around 8,000 tickets have been sold so far, but with a capacity of around 34,000 and admission prices of £5 and £1, the Football Association is hoping the feel-good factor generated over the weekend will see the crowd swell.