England look to young guns for hope

UEFA U21 tournament

England look to young guns for hope

England v Spain Herning 20:45 CET

The motherland of football has had a sobering year.

The national team has yet to recover from a 4-1 drubbing from a rampant young Germany at the World Cup in South Africa last summer.

A week ago England found themselves 0-2 down at home to Switzerland in their Euro 2012 qualification campaign, before salvaging a draw and a chance to breathe again, despite registering a fifth failure to win at home on the trot.

Switzerland is not exactly flavour of the month in England. FIFA rebuffed the Football Association's last-minute bid to derail Sepp Blatter's re-coronation by a huge margin, leaving the inventors of the game drifting on the high seas of football politics with no influence to speak of.

In their book 'Why England Lose,' Simon Kuper and Stefan Szyminski argued that the highest-paid teams triumph, but that rule must not work for managers, as Fabio Capello's £6 million per annum puts all other national team coaches in the shade.

England's champions Manchester United have also got the blues, or should that be the blaugrana, after being convincingly overcome 3-1 in the Champions League Final.

The London media will hype away as ever, but the evidence on the field is that the Three Lions and the anointed stars of the Premier League just do not cut the mustard.

Gasps were heard far and wide as the technical and tactical gap between Barcelona and the Red Devils was played out on TV screens across the world. And the remedy appears to belong in a galaxy far, far away.

Youth is the key we are always told, where we can correct the mistakes of the past in the future.

The European Under-21 Championship might not be the source of an English fightback - that must surely come before the age of 17 when some are good enough to debut at the top level.

Small-sided games in place of eleven a-side, honing technique instead of stressing winning, developing ball skills and game-savvy instead of valuing power and pace alone - we all seem to be aware of what needs to be done, yet always wondering when the transformation in English mentality will occur.

With this is mind, the Under-21 level is too late to expect to witness the start of a revolution. At best it can give us a clue or two about certain players. While Xavi, Cantona, Zidane and most recently Mesut Ozil have all stepped up from the U21s to greater things, a far greater number have failed to make the transition to being national team regulars.

This implies players develop in their early to mid-twenties as well as their teens, but the gems in the U21s are there to be mined all the same. 200+ scouts are not here on holiday after all. The 2009 tournament saw Ozil, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer and three other young Germans announce their arrival before starring in South Africa.

England, the beaten finalists last time around, boasted James Milner, Theo Walcott, Joe Hart, Mark Noble, Micah Richards, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Jack Rodwell and Andy Johnson, almost a golden generation of U21s.

Yet their 4-1 demolition by Germany was a fair score and tragically repeated at the World Cup.

Germany are not in Denmark, having been edged out in the qualifiers, which leaves England again looking in a strong position at the start of the tournament - they began as favourites in 2009.

Iceland are much fancied, having edged out Germany in the qualifiers, while England coach Stuart Pearce has tipped the Czech Republic as the team to beat. The main opposition as far as the bookies are concerned is Spain, whom England meet in their opener in Herning tonight. England beat the Spanish 2-0 in Sweden, but with the World Cup and Champions League now residing in Iberia, the Spanish will be confident of revenge with their nation's football on a roll. Five of their squad ply their trade in the Camp Nou and Javi Martinez was a member of the victorious 2010 World Cup squad.

The tournament is also an acid test of Pearce's ability to bounce back as manager after the humiliating defeat by Germany in 2009. Capello's assistant is set to coach the UK Olympic Team in 2012 and, while behind Harry Redknapp in the race for the Italian's job next summer, surely has half an eye on the England manager's chair.

With England morphing into Great Britain & Northern Ireland for next summer, the main goal for the other nations is a strong showing to ensure qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Hosts Denmark, featuring Ajax starlet Christian Eriksen, got off to a bad start losing 0-1 to Switzerland in Aalborg last night, while Iceland, despite being highly tipped, went down 0-2 to Belarus.

Euro 2011 U21

Sat 11th June

Belarus 2:0 Iceland

Denmark 0:1 Switzerland

Sun 12th June

Czech Republic v Ukraine

England v Spain

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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