Sunday, 13 July 2008

2008 European Under-19 Championship Preview

James Tomkins is getting ready to play an integral part in England's bid to win the 2008 European Under-19 Championship when the finals begin against the host nation Czech Republic this afternoon. The young defender has kept himself sharp since the end of the season and has stepped up his training since returning to Chadwell Heath. In good shape then for the Young Lions, Tomkins insists: "I am looking forward to going away with England, it will be a good tournament. But we are not going there to make up the numbers we are going out to win it. We did well in the qualifiers so we are full of confidence." England coach Brian Eastick named Tomkins and club-mate Freddie Sears in his 18-man selection, with both players having been instrumental in qualifying. It is thought the duo will start when things get under way at 4.30pm London time. "There have been a few changes to the side but the people coming in have done well so there is no reason why we can't do well," Tomkins added. "It is obviously nice to have a club team-mate there in the shape of Freddie but we are a close-knit bunch who all get on well together."

Freddie Sears is also eager to impress on the international stage. The young West Ham United striker flew out on Friday with Tomkins and the rest of the 18-man England squad, after training at the National Football Centre in Burton-on-Trent this week. Sears says he has enjoyed being involved in the England set-up and has been keeping his fitness levels up, even in his spare time. "Training has been really good, it's been mainly about getting our fitness levels up and a bit of football mixed in, but in our spare time, we have been having a few games of tennis between ourselves," said Sears. "There is a good bunch of lads here, a few new faces and then the rest of the lads who have been in the squad during the summer, so we have had a laugh while still working hard in training. I am just aiming to play my best and score whether I come on as sub or start the game, he said. "We are all really confident that we can do well enough to win the tournament, there is good belief in the team that we can go all the way."

Sears is pleased to have team-mate Tomkins with him on the international trip and said he is proving to be a good room-mate. "Tomka's been alright to share with so far," joked Sears. "No one has to get up to make a cup of tea because we don't have this in our room! We get on well and we're just really looking forward to playing well for our country."

The West Ham United striker was a key man in qualification, not least with his double strike in the 2-0 win against Poland that helped the Young Lions win the decisive Elite round mini-tournament played in Belarus back in May. "It's been a good year and we've done well and stuck together as a group," he stated. "There have been a few injuries and different people coming in, but overall it's a good squad. Tournaments are different because you play so many games in a short space of time, so it's all about recovery really and Belarus should set us up well for the finals," the 18-year-old added. "Obviously we are going to see great players out there because a few of the best players in the world have played at this tournament. You expect different things from different teams, so it should be good."

Tony Carr earlier spoke of his pride as Tomkins and Sears prepared to help England's quest for glory in the Czech Republic. The duo's inclusion in the prestigious UEFA tournament for the continent's most talented teenagers is just reward for the progress they have made from the West Ham United academy through to the first team. "They are playing in a terrific tournament and they will only come back better players for it," Academy director Carr said. "Club football and international football even at U19 level does present different problems. It tends to be more tactical and there tends to be more opportunities for individuals to shine and be match-winners. It is different from the cut and thrust of club league football really and it will be terrific for their development."

The call-up means Tomkins and Sears will not be able to travel with West Ham United on the high-profile North American tour. Carr said they have mixed feelings about missing out on the trip but the benefits were there for all to see. "After representing the first team last season, they would have wanted to stay and be part of Alan Curbishley's plans for the early part of pre-season and have an opportunity to shine but you can't turn down representing your country."

Speaking to the, England coach Noel Blake, who works with head coach Brian Eastick, said: "We're taking a strong squad over to the Czech Repubic and a few of the players in the 18 have played first team games for their clubs, such as Victor Moses at Crystal Palace and both Tomkins and Sears with West Ham, so that's good experience for them."

England finished runners-up to France three years ago in Belfast only to lose out in the Elite round in each of the next two seasons. This time they won Group 1 ahead of Belarus, Serbia and Poland at the end of May. "When you get to this stage there are no easy draws so I'm fairly open-minded," Eastick told after the finals draw in Prague on 1 June. "You have to be philosophical about it; some might think it's easier than the other group, some might think it's more difficult. It doesn't matter which group you're in, it's going to be difficult when you get to this level."

England have not lifted a youth trophy since claiming the U18 title in 1993 but Eastick believes in looking at the bigger picture. "Obviously we hope to do well," he said. "This is going to be fantastic, we believe all our players need more tournament experience. If you spoke to the previous three or four senior England managers they would all say the one thing they would have liked the players to have had is more of that. You want the best players for the finals to give them that experience, because it's very different. It's a fantastic opportunity for the players – and for me and the staff too. It's the chance to play against some of the best young players in Europe, and under a bit of pressure too."

Having missed out in the last two seasons, Eastick is keen for his players to make the most of their time in the Czech Republic, and admits this squad has different qualities to those which have preceded it. "Last year we had a very strong team, but we didn't get the players for the Elite round and didn't qualify," he said. "This year, without being disrespectful to the players, there perhaps isn't as much quality in depth but what we have developed is a very good team spirit. They're a very hungry group of players to work with and have bonded together very well – and that's reflected in the results so far."

In Group B of the eight-nation tournament, England will take on Italy on 17 July and Greece on 20 July in Jablonec and Liberec respectively. The opening game today against the Czechs is being shown live on Eurosport, and is in fact the only England group game to be screened. Should they finish in the top two, England will go on to meet one of the two sides that make it through from Group A in the semi-finals on 23 July. That section contains Germany, Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Although defender Jordan Spence and Czech goalkeeper Marek Stech did not make the final selections for the tournament, there are still a couple of other points of interest. Leicester City defender Joe Mattock, a long time target of Alan Curbishley, should be on display alongside Tomkins. Also, imposing striker Balint Bajner, our possible latest but as yet unconfirmed signing, could feature for Hungary.

1 comment:

TheHorse said...

It's a shame Spence isn't playing in this; he's every bit as good as Tomkins from what I've seen and read.


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