Vassell setback for Platt's plan

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The Independent Football

England's under-21 team was dealt a significant setback yesterday when Darius Vassell was forced to admit defeat in his battle against a knee injury.

The 21-year-old Aston Villa striker has withdrawn from the party which flew out last night for the first leg of their European Championship play-off with Holland in Utrecht tomorrow.

Vassell has been struggling with a knee problem and will return to Villa for treatment, but the Under-21s manager, David Platt, has not given up hope of him being fit for the second leg at Pride Park on Tuesday night and has therefore decided not to call up a replacement.

Vassell's absence will leave England with a sizeable hole to plug. He has scored twice in 11 Under-21 internationals, including one in Platt's first game in charge – a 4-0 friendly win over Holland at Reading – but has been one of the new manager's most dependable performers.

However, the manager still has plenty of quality at his disposal with Derby's Malcolm Christie, Newcastle's Shola Ameobi and the West Ham striker Jermain Defoe also in the squad.

Vassell is the fourth player to withdraw from the original 24-man party after Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves, Leeds defender Seth Johnson and Arsenal keeper Stuart Taylor.

Only Taylor has been replaced, with Chelsea goalkeeper Rhys Evans having joined the squad on Tuesday.