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Pearce hails U21 character

England Under-21 head coach Stuart Pearce has told the Times of his side's impressive team spirit ahead of their opening match of the European Championship in Israel.

• Atkins: Emerging stars' chance to shine at U21 Championship

Pearce's side kick off their campaign against Italy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, looking to progress from Group A after failing to reach the knockout phase two years ago in Denmark.

The former Manchester City boss has talked highly of his current crop's character as they plan for matches against Norway and the hosts Israel after facing Italy.

"As far as team ethic goes and a willingness to want to achieve, this group is as strong a group as I have worked with in the four championships," he said. "The camaraderie of the group is as good as I have worked with."

Pearce continued: "Before we left the hotel, I sat back and let the players do the team talk. They told us exactly what needed to be done in certain positions. We had one from each unit of the team - Adam Smith, Jordan Henderson and Marvin Sordell - and they probably delivered exactly how I would have done it. Obviously, it was done in a slightly different manner.

"As a group, if I was a club manager working with them, it would be a case of empowering them and giving them real responsibility; I've never done it before. I just felt, as a group and as individuals, they were about ready for it. Collectively, they are well above their years. The beauty, of course, is that if it goes tits up, it is their fault and not mine."

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