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Page last updated at 22:24 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 23:24 UK

Pearce relieved to reach finals

England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce
Pearce was proud of how his England Under-21 side defended against Wales

England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce admitted Wales pushed his side all the way before they booked their place at next summer's European Championship.

Pearce's side hung on to earn a 2-2 draw at Villa Park, clinching a 5-4 aggregate play-off win.

He said: "It was as stern a test as we have had in my time as manager. We have been pushed hard by Spain, Italy and Holland but Wales were right up there.

"I am just glad to get through but it is a shame we could not both qualify."

Pearce paid tribute to the resilience his team showed after Tom Huddlestone was sent off for a late tackle on Darcy Blake in the second half and felt it was the key to their progress.

"We went down to 10 men but my players stood shoulder to shoulder and said 'we're not going to concede a goal'," stated Pearce.

"And from the time Tom went off, Wales were probably less of a threat than they were beforehand.

"So credit to us - there is a great team spirit in the camp and it is an absolute honour to work with these players.

"The same goes for Wales too and it is a real shame the pair of us are not going to Sweden because we could have done the British Isles proud.

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"There was no real defining moment that won the tie for us - we won it fair and square over two matches against a side that matched us.

"It was like a fantastic boxing match, with both fighters going at it hammer and tongs and the last man standing, luckily, was us."

England will be one of eight teams at the finals and Pearce is hopeful they can improve on their showing in 2006; when they reached the semi-finals only to lose 13-12 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands.

"I am more experienced now," added Pearce.

"We also have seven or eight players who have been through it before, so hopefully we can do better."

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see also
England U21 2-2 Wales U21 (5-4)
14 Oct 08 |  Internationals
Wales U21 2-3 England U21
10 Oct 08 |  Internationals


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