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By ESPN Staff
Nov 25, 2006

Tough task ahead of England's U21s

England Under-21s face a tough start to their European Championship finals campaign next summer in Holland following yesterday's draw in Arnhem.

They will open against 2002 champions the Czech Republic on June 11, and then face Pierluigi Casiraghi's Italy side before wrapping up Group B against Serbia.

Italy have won five of the last eight Under-21 championships and current boss Casiraghi, the former Chelsea striker whose career was cut short by injury, is assisted by Stamford Bridge legend Gianfranco Zola.

Despite the pedigree of Italy and the Czech Republic, England have established themselves among the favourites for the tournament following a play-off win against Germany and a friendly victory over holders Holland.

Centre-back Anton Ferdinand said: 'I am looking forward to it. The fact that it is going to get the media attention that it deserves is good.

'It is only good for us young players to show the England manager we can play at a top tournament and if you do that then you never know what can happen.'

Peter Taylor, working on a match-by-match basis while still manager of Crystal Palace, is expected to be in charge next year.

The Palace boss stepped aside for last week's friendly in Alkmaar which England won under the guidance of Sammy Lee, who earlier in the season was linked to the full-time Under-21 role Steve McClaren wants put in place.

Taylor has developed players for the senior squad during his time in charge and could call back the likes of Aaron Lennon, Kieran Richardson and Micah Richards for the tournament.

Even Wayne Rooney is technically eligible as he was born in 1985.

The finals will probably mean consecutive summer tournaments for Arsenal youngster Theo Walcott, who was the joint top scorer in qualifying with four goals.

Walcott came off the bench to seal the win against Germany as England reached the finals of the tournament they won in 1984, the year the eldest members of the current squad were born.

England's matches will be played in Nijmegen and Arnhem, while Holland, Portugal, Israel and Belgium in Group A will play in Heerenveen and Groningen. The top two from each group qualify for the semi-finals.

'Italy in particular have an incredible record at Under-21 level but Serbia and the Czech Republic also represent tough opposition,' said Ray Clemence, the Football Association's head of national teams, on the FA website.

'We were pleased to avoid Portugal as historically they have given us problems.

'However, the England team will be full of confidence on the back of four straight wins against strong teams.'

The hosts kick off the tournament on June 10, and England face the Czechs the following day.