England Under 21’s Fail To Inspire Confidence In The Future Of The National Team

Guest contributor Richard Smith takes a look at the recently concluded Under 21 tournament, where at least we drew with the eventual winners…even if we didn’t qualify for the semi finals because we forgot a game lasts at least 90 minutes.

If manager Stuart Pearce achieved one thing at the Euro Under-21 Championships in Denmark, it was to mentally prepare the players for future disappointments for when they represent their country at senior level.

The England Under-21 team’s humiliating exit from a tournament for which they were the second favourites to win was borne out of the usual reasons and excuses more commonly associated with their senior counterparts. Lack of ideas, inability to keep the ball, insistence on playing the long ball and worst of all, their inability to create clear cut scoring opportunities. In 270 minutes of football at the tournament, they managed to score just two goals!

To be fair it has to be said that England was the better team in their final match against the Czech Republic. They were winning 1-0 with just stoppage time left to play…

Had the score remained 1-0, the headlines would have read completely differently of course. Pearce would have received the plaudits, the players would have been branded “battlers” and more importantly, they would have had every chance of making the final.

Instead in those dying seconds, a Czech Republic attack took full advantage of England’s defensive frailties. They scored somewhat fortuitously with a toe poke in the 89th minute before wrapping things up with a second goal in injury time.

Two lacklustre draws and a defeat from their three games meant only third place in their group and ignominy. Admittedly, the England group was the harder of the two, but the side should have had enough talent to qualify to the semi finals, two of which have just completed transfers amassing £38 million!

Was there anything in those three matches for England fans to get excited over for the future?

The truthful answer is no, compared to the technical ability of eventual winners, Spain, England are some way behind achieving success at an international tournament. Performances from the likes  of Mata, Herrera, Montoya and Adrian in the Spanish side raise questions about what on earth Man Utd and Liverpool are getting for their huge investments in the bright young stars of English football? Whether it’s a case of talent or manager in charge, something continues to be sadly amiss with the England national teams.

As far as Pearce is concerned, the poor showing will not be rewarded with the sack. The FA have punished him instead by giving him the onerous task of guiding the team through the 2013 Euro Under-21 qualification, a quest he obviously felt he could not refuse. What it does however, is rule him out of the search for the next England manager when Capello steps down at thhe end of his current contract, be it in the Autumn, should (god forbid) England fail to qualify for Euro 2012 or in 12 months.

Summer’s Here….Wellies On!

Now the U21s have been knocked out of their tournament – not the first time the team has been eliminated in the group stage either – there’s a bit of a void between now and the next game for the senior team, which is a game against the Netherlands on 10th August.

So now the football season is officially ‘over’ (well, apart from the Copa America but we can’t get knocked out of that) for those of us that follow horse racing, there’s still plenty of action to get involved in over the ‘summer’ (although it’s absolutely pouring down outside the 11 Lions HQ right now) and on Saturday afternoon there are six meetings in the UK that include a couple of cracking looking races – the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, which is followed by the John Sunley Memorial Criterion Stakes on the July course at Newbury.

Let’s say you fancied Overturn to win the first race and The Cheka to win the second, but you were also convinced that The Rectifier was going to win the 2.55 at Windsor and Chilled would come first in the 3:45 at Chester. You could place four separate win or each way bets but it’d be far more profitable to place a Lucky 15 which is a type of bet where even minimal stakes could return a tidy profit if your four selections came in – it’s basically 15 bets (four singles, six doubles, four trebles and a fourfold) but if only one of your fancies comes in you’re paid at double the odds.

So although there’s no domestic football to get involved with for the next few weeks, if you were lucky enough at the races to build up a nice pot that you could blow on Swansea winning the Premier League at 10,000-1. Don’t laugh though…I’m old enough to remember when they finished in the top six in the old First Division!

Pearce Ready For Battle

Thomas Rooney takes a look at England’s prospects in the UEFA U21 tournament, which started yesterday.

The domestic football season may well be over, but the serious stuff for England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce is just getting underway.

The former Manchester City boss leads England’s young guns in the European Under-21 Championships this month, starting with a game against tournament favourites Spain today.

Looking ahead positively to what the tournament can achieve for his players, Pearce has been discussing how his entire squad can get ‘better and better’ as the two weeks progress.

The former England international said: “The team that starts the tournament might not be as good as the team that finishes the tournament for us. I think they can get better and better as a group.”

This is of course the main objective of the Under-21 side – to prepare players for senior international football and major tournaments.

Two years ago for example, football betting pundits note how Joe Hart, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott were all involved in this Under-21 tournament and are not all set to be heavily involved in Fabio Capello’s plans for Euro 2012 next year.

Of the current squad, there are players with Premier League experience too and in comparing the two teams (2009 and 2011) Pearce can see the similarities when it comes to positive attributes.

He said: “The preparation’s probably been nigh on identical (to 2009), to be honest with you. The camaraderie with this group’s been fantastic. there have been a lot of players come to the party. I’m very buoyed up by it.”

Pearce is clearly enjoying his role within the England set-up right now and so he should. He gets the chance to help the most talented young footballers in the country progress their game. He is also involved in a position where results probably come second to progression of players.

This doesn’t mean England won’t want to win the tournament though. They lost in the final two years ago and Pearce in particular will want to put this right.

The winning mentality is a key factor to succeeding at international level and it would be beneficial if a group of young England players have a tournament victory under their belts.

In terms of England’s chances, they do go into the tournament as the No.1 ranked team in Europe and many people will place football bets on them being the team to beat. However, with Spain, Czech Republic and Ukraine to face in the group stages, they have a difficult path to the semi-finals.

However, if Pearce’s confidence in this team proves true, they have a very good chance of lifting a European trophy for England. Something the senior team will be aiming to do next summer.