Pearce set for U21 challenges

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Stuart Pearce has challenged his fledgling England Under-21 side to handle the severe pressure of back-to-back European Championship qualifiers in Iceland and Norway.

Pearce's latest batch of youngsters got their Group Eight campaign off to the perfect start last month with a 6-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan but the difficulty will be cranked up several notches on Thursday when England face fellow finalists Iceland in Reykjavik before heading to Norway for another crunch clash on Monday.

"These are real high-pressure games," head coach Pearce whose side lost their last meeting with Iceland in a friendly in March, told a pre-match press conference.

"Iceland have done extremely well in recent years and their form at under-21 level is certainly improving.

"Getting to the finals this summer was a great achievement and, let's not forget, they beat us in March, on home soil.

"I think they are well-organised and have got some extremely talented players and a really good work ethic, collectively as a team.

"I have seen them on DVD and I see these attributes again and again from them."

Despite losing Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker to the senior England squad this week, as well as a further three players lost to sickness and injury, Pearce was happy with his current 23-strong group, all of whom are fit ahead of Thursday's clash.

"Everyone's is here and everyone is saying to me that they are fit and available to play," he said. "They are putting competition and pressure on each other and that is fantastic.

"There is a great spirit here and we've got half a dozen players who have experience of European Championship football, and they have had to help the younger players settle in, and they have settled in very quickly. I am looking forward to seeing them play and see how we get on."

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Phil Jones
Danny Welbeck
Stuart Pearce
Kyle Walker

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