Pearce won't take Belgium lightly
Published : 14 Nov 2011 09:16:50
Stuart Pearce has refused to write off Belgium despite his England side being overwhelming favourites to maintain their 100% start to European Under-21 Championship qualifying.
Pearce's latest crop of Young Lions travelled to Mons on Sunday having won all four of their Group Eight matches to storm to the top of the table. In contrast, Monday evening's opponents have recorded only one victory - against rock-bottom Azerbaijan - and are already seven points adrift of the leaders.
But Pearce said: "I think Belgium have got the ability to play as well as any team in this group, that's my opinion on what I have seen."
He added: "They've had highs and lows of performance but, playing against England, they'll be fully focused."
Pearce declared his current squad had exceeded all of his expectations, with the former England defender having said at the start of qualifying that reaching next summer's finals would be the toughest challenge of his four years as head coach.
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 Saturday'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.
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 Monday night's opponents.
Pearce said: "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."