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Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Saturday, 27 June 2009 12:51 UK

Pearce's England banish penalty pain

Stuart Pearce rallies his England team
Pearce (centre) knows the strengths and weakness of his 23-man squad

By Ian Dennis
BBC Radio 5 Live senior football reporter in Varberg, Sweden

From Montenegro to Malmo… it is a journey that has taken 24 months but the wait for success has been even longer - it is 25 years since England were crowned champions of Europe at Under-21 level.

After the 2007 semi-final defeat in the Netherlands, coach Stuart Pearce set the target of winning these championships and now his young stars have the chance to emulate the class of '84.

A 3-0 away victory in Podgorica in September 2007 against Montenegro will seem a distant memory but the players are more than aware they could be rewarded for all their hard work since that opening qualifying match.

They were undefeated in reaching the finals and aside from the penalty shoot-out defeat to the Dutch in Herenveen two years ago, Pearce is yet to lose a competitive match as under-21 coach.

It is an impressive record and allied with the manner in how they reached this year's final will provide a great sense of belief that they can be victorious.

Finally, England overcame the hurdle of a semi-final in a penalty shoot-out. The dreaded scenario is no more, memories of venues such as Turin, St Etienne and Gelsenkirchen banished.

Pearce who knows all about the pressures of penalties and the heartache of failure deserves a lot of credit. This squad has practiced them religiously for two years. The analysis is almost forensic in terms of detail so that Pearce knows the strengths and weakness of every member of his 23-man squad.

So, ahead of Friday's semi-final against Sweden, Pearce had a list of his strongest spot-kick takers and he stuck to it rigidly.

Aside from James Milner's slip on the first kick - Joe Hart, Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Kieron Gibbs all found the target.

Sweden's Molins misses the decisive penalty
Sweden's Molins missed the decisive penalty

After losing three of four previous tournaments he has been involved in at semi-finals on penalties, Pearce can feel satisfied his homework paid off.

However, such is the burning desire of the former England international he will only be fulfilled if his team can win this competition.

The fact that the final is against old foes Germany makes the occasion even more special and will guarantee even more attention in the build-up. Naturally it will evoke memories of 1966, Italia 90 and Euro 96 but Pearce is only concerned about the future rather than the past.

We are yet to see the best of England in this tournament. They have been organised and well disciplined. They possess power and pace and cause problems from set pieces but speaking with some of the players I sense they have not peaked yet.

After Friday's semi-final Milner gave an honest assessment: "It's great to be in the final but it feels like a defeat the way we played and the standards we have set ourselves."

The Aston Villa midfielder admitted they were shaky in the second half against Sweden: "We never passed the ball like we can and that's something we'll have to look at. In a way it could be blessing because the lads will be determined and raring to go for the final and know we must improve like we do for every game."

Skipper Mark Noble meanwhile, was left contemplating lifting silverware in Monday's final.

"Now we're so close," he told BBC Sport. "I'm not going to lie to you, I have been dreaming about lifting the trophy as captain."

England have already faced Germany, a 1-1 draw in Halmstad in the group stages when Pearce rested his first choice XI. Because of suspensions for Joe Hart, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell there will be enforced changes for the final.

For the past fortnight the squad has been based in a quiet and quaint resort of Varberg of the western coast of Sweden. With its 14th century fortress in the distance from their luxury hotel on the sandy seafront, they are now bound for Malmo.

Varberg means "The Guardian Mountain" and England's intention is to climb to the top of the European summit by winning the under-21 championships for the first time in 25 years.



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see also
England U21 3-3 Sweden U21 (aet)
26 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Eng U21 v Swe U21 as it happened
26 Jun 09 |  Football
England to contest Hart booking
26 Jun 09 |  Internationals
England U21 1-1 Germany U21
22 Jun 09 |  Internationals
England U21 2-0 Spain U21
18 Jun 09 |  Internationals
England U21s 2-1 Finland U21s
15 Jun 09 |  Internationals
England U21 7-0 Azerbaijan U21
08 Jun 09 |  Internationals


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