The Capello kids: Fabio's influence is inspiring England's stars of the future
As Sweden prepares for a midsummer knees-up with a fetching array offloral headgear, Stuart Pearce and his England Under-21 players refuseto be distracted. Bitter personal memories alone are enough to stop the intensePearce getting high on the scent of success simply because his teamhave made the last four of a competitive tournament. England boss Capello swipes back at Ancelotti He has three semi-finals on his England c.v. - two as a player and one as a coach - and all have ended in defeat on penalties. So the efficient progress of his Under-21s into the latter stages of the European Championship in Sweden will only stiffen his resolve to go one step further - and hopefully two. How CAN Milner play at 23?Born on January 4, 1986, James Milner qualifies for this tournament by just four days. He is 23 years and six months old but UEFA allow players who are 21 when the qualifying competition starts to complete the campaign in order to keep the teams settled. So this EuropeanChampionship is open to those born on or after January 1, 1986. Milner has accumulated a record 44 Under-21 caps. If born only four days earlier, that figure would be only 29. The other teams MILNER is England's only player aged 23. Of their rivals, Italy have five in their squad, followed by Spain (4) and Belarus (3), while Finland, Germany, Serbia andSweden have one apiece. It is 16 years since an England team won a meaningful trophy - the European Under-18 Championship, inspired by the goals of Robbie Fowler. It is 25 years since the Under-21s ruled Europe and let's not get into 1966. Having beaten a well-fancied Spain, the mood inside England's coastal camp here is one of quiet confidence and determination. These players, many of them born in the year of Diego Maradona's Hand of God at the 1986 World Cup, are sick of gallant failure, too. 'It is important to get out of that trend of losing on penalties,' said James Milner. 'If we get into the winning mentality at youth level, we can take it into the senior side. It will be a massive boost if we win this.' Easier said than done. But if Fabio Capello is to submerge all age groups in his winning attitude, he must trust players like Milner and Theo Walcott to carry his message between teams, while Jack Rodwell and Kieran Gibbs can take their Under-21 experience into the Under-19 age group. Proof that it is all about victory came from the treatment of Walcott, persuaded to forgo his summer holiday, then dropped for the good of the team. This is an exercise in learning to win and it can be unfair. Capello is not in Sweden but he was straight on the phone to Pearce after the Spain game, offering congratulations and craving feedback. England's Italian manager has made it clear success in this tournament is vital to his project at senior level and that players who impress here could join him in South Africa. Milner said: 'When I was first in the Under-21s and there was a vacancy in the full side, it was not necessarily an Under-21 player who got called up. Eighty per cent of the time it would be someone else. It has changed a lot and it helps to know that link is established.' General manager Franco Baldini was in Gothenburg taking a look at full back Gibbs, who will put pressure on Wayne Bridge for a place in the senior squad if his rapid progress continues. Walcott's reaction to the chop and his contribution as a substitute against Spain will have pleased the senior management, too. Fabrice Muamba, Martin Cranie and Lee Cattermole are others who have impressed along with Milner, who rated the result among the best of his 44 Under-21 caps. 'It was the way we played and passed it against a top-quality side,' he said. It is usually entertaining when Pearce takes on the Germans but Monday's game in Halmstad has lost some of its edge. England are already through and Germany need only a point to join them. It could be a cagey rehearsal for the final. Pearce insists he wants to top the group, but he will not take risks. Gabriel Agbonlahor went off against Spain with sore shins, Gibbs picked up a knock and Micah Richards is playing through a slight knee problem. Michael Mancienne is available after suspension but Milner is banned after what might be described as a tactical booking against Spain, although he insisted it was coincidence he is clear to play in the semi-final - before breaking into a huge grin.
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