Pearce prepared for greatest challenge

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Stuart Pearce expects tonight's clash against Spain in Gothenburg to be the toughest test of his reign as England Under-21 coach.

Pearce's youngsters will reach the semi-finals of the European Championships if they beat the Spanish in their Group B match at Gamla Ullevi.

And, agreeing that it will be his sternest test as Under-21 coach, said: "Yes, it will be. We are extremely respectful of Spain across all age-groups. Spain are very strong and if we want to win this tournament, our next fixtures will be Spain, Germany then one of Serbia, Italy or Sweden."

He added: "It's a very tough run-in but our opponents will also have their hands full. We have three points and we know one victory out of two games and we go through."

Pearce will make a late decision on whether Micah Richards is ready to start after jarring his knee in the narrow win over Finland on Monday.

Theo Walcott was taken off at half-time in that game and Pearce has to decide whether the Arsenal winger will start on the pitch or on the bench.

One player virtually guaranteed a place in the starting XI is Arsenal full-back Kieran Gibbs, who has shown his strength of character after coming back from his mistake against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second leg.

"It's hard to think at the time and put the blame on anyone else," said Gibbs. "I felt disappointed after that but I'm trying to forget about that now and this is the tournament I am in."

Gibbs, despite his meteoric rise, could still be behind Gael Clichy in the pecking order when the new season starts and would not rule out another move on loan, after going to Norwich the season before last.

"It would be difficult because when you play week-in, week-out you get used to it and it would be different coming off the bench again," he said. "I'm still 19 and he (Clichy) is a world-class left-back. I've still got a lot to learn from him and I don't think it will be too disappointing for me to continue learning from one of the best left-backs in the world."

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Norwich City
European News
Kieran Gibbs
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Manchester United
Stuart Pearce
Micah Richards
Gael Clichy
Theo Walcott

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