England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce paid Wales the ultimate compliment after his side's 3-2 UEFA Championship play-off first leg win in Cardiff.

Pearce admitted that his side had been forced to battle right to the end at Ninian Park by a side he rates as the best of its kind in recent memory.

"Welsh football at under-21 level, with the players they have, is the best I have ever known it," said Pearce. "Even if Wales' more experienced players had been out there, they would not have done any better."

Wales had several of their best under-21s taken by national boss John Toshack for the World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein.

But Pearce said: "I know John Toshack has taken a lot of their better players for the senior side, but I am not sure any of them could have done any better than the lads Wales had on show."

Pearce claimed that his young side had been given a wake-up call by a battling Welsh outfit.

Wales were ahead through Simon Church early on and despite goals from David Wheater and Adam Johnson, the 19 year-old Reading striker struck again minutes before the break.

England had to fight for their lives in this first-leg, and it took a Gabriel Agbonlahor flick with 29 minutes left to claim victory and a major advantage in Tuesday's second-leg at Villa Park.

Pearce admitted: "My team were told in the dressing room straight afterwards that they still have hard work to do. This is about professionalism now and we had a big, big wake-up call in the first-leg.

"The game had everything, and it was just what I thought it would be like. Wales are a very good side with spirit, as are England. The game was a credit to both teams."

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