Football

England's youngsters must seize their opportunity to shine against Spain and France

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Two friendlies against Spain and France over the course of the next week represent an excellent opportunity for England's up-and-coming stars to really step up to the plate.

The past year or so has seen something of a renaissance for the Three Lions. The previous international campaign saw a forgettable performance in qualifying and an unforgettably bad performance in the tournament itself.

Some of the older heads in the camp looked a few years past their sell-by date, several established players were shown up by better opposition and it was clear that many of the younger talents simply were not ready.

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In the months since, however, the national team has shown remarkable improvement. Ten wins out of ten in qualifying, with an average of three goals scored per match and only three conceded throughout the entire campaign, is nothing to be sniffed at, and suggestions that England only did so thanks to an easy group simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

A cursory glance at the FIFA World Rankings shows the truth of the matter. England, undefeated group winners, sit ninth in the table, with second-placed Switzerland only two places behind them in 11th.

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Slovenia, the third-placed team, are placed 64th, but this is only following a dramatic 18-place slide in the past month. At the time of England's most recent game against them back in June, they were 48th.

Now let's look at Germany, a team of the sort of calibre England will have to match if they are to have any success in France next summer. The second-placed team in Germany's group, Poland, are currently 38th, 27 places behind Switzerland, whilst Ireland are 42nd after a 12-place rise since October.

Clearly, England's group was no more difficult than anyone else's, and the strong performance by the team was due in no small part to players such as Harry Kane, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling.

YOUTH KEY TO SUCCESS

Confidence is no doubt sky high in the England camp right now, and confidence combined with talent will inevitably produce results. Really, these matches should not be considered friendlies at all, as France and Spain have their own plans for dominance next summer and will be hoping to lay down a marker against a team that has a growing band of admirers on the continent.

In an interview with the Telegraph on Wednesday, Spain international Gerard Pique expressed his admiration for England's recent record, stating that: "I think now they are in one of their runs. That is a really good sign."

He also singled out young Everton defender John Stones for his particular praise, calling him a "really, really good player," and including him in his World XI. With such strong praise from established stars, now surely is the time to deliver.

YOUTHFUL INJECTION

A good performance now by any of the younger players in the England squad could put them in good stead for the finals, not to mention the fact the time to impress is running out.

Following this international window, England will play only two more matches, against Germany and the Netherlands, before the squad for the finals is announced - and you would think that Roy Hodgson ought to have made up his mind by then.

Two mouthwatering fixtures against Spain and France, with the manager looking to give everyone a chance to have their say, is an opportunity that must be seized. The country is excited; the world is taking notice; the players must now deliver.

Football fans: who of England's youngster would you like to see included at next year's European Championships? Let us know of your thoughts in the comments section below!

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