Pearce hails English promise

13 November 2011 08:16

Stuart Pearce tonight declared his latest crop of England Under-21 stars had exceeded all of his expectations as they aim to maintain their 100% start to European Championship qualifying on Monday.

England's next generation of Young Lions have stormed to the top of Group Eight, despite Pearce having declared at the start of qualifying that reaching next summer's finals would be the toughest challenge of his four years as head coach.

A win in Belgium would put England within touching distance of a play-off spot, eight points clear of second-placed Norway and 10 ahead of their next opponents, and Pearce said: "We've put ourselves in a situation now that, if we beat them tomorrow [Monday] night, we probably put them out of the competition with regard to the points they can achieve and, historically, the amount of points you need to get out of the group."

He added: "We've put ourselves in a decent position, but we know full well they have to come out and try and win the game against us.

"It'll be an interesting game and we're getting stronger and stronger as a group as time's gone on.

"I think we're beyond my expectations of how tight we would be collectively."

Pearce's job has been made all the more difficult by Fabio Capello's decision to draft several players still eligible for the under-21s into his senior squad, with Jack Rodwell and Kyle Walker the latest to make their debuts in yesterday's shock win over world and European champions Spain.

But Pearce's understudies have more than risen to the occasion in their colleagues' absence, smashing in 16 goals and conceding just one in their four qualifiers to date.

England will be without striker Nathan Delfouneso, who returned to Aston Villa after being forced off 11 minutes into Thursday's win in Colchester.

However, Blackburn midfielder Jason Lowe and Tottenham defender Adam Smith, who is on loan at MK Dons, have shaken off respective hamstring and ankle injuries.

Source: PA

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