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By ESPN Staff
Aug 21, 2007

Pearce sets challenge for new batch of talent

Stuart Pearce has called on his new England Under-21 players to go one better than his previous squad did in the European Championships this summer.

Pearce took his youngsters to the semi-finals in Holland which earned him the full-time job as coach, and he has targeted victory in the 2009 tournament in Sweden.

The first job is to qualify, with their campaign starting next month in Montenegro and Bulgaria after a friendly against Romania in Bristol tonight.

'From now on our focus is to win the tournament in two years' time,' said Pearce.

'The squad that went to Holland enhanced their reputations and it's important now that this group do exactly the same. We need to qualify and do the same again.'

With many of the players from the Holland tournament now ineligible, Pearce's squad has a different look.

Seven remain from the tournament, although James Vaughan is injured and Steven Taylor has been called into the senior squad.

Gabriel Agbonlahor returns after missing the finals and Theo Walcott is back from injury.

After the clash at Ashton Gate, Pearce will meet up with the senior squad to look at their training under Steve McClaren.

'It will be a great experience for me,' added the former Manchester City boss.

'I've been around the squad as a player but it will give me a chance to watch Steve work which I've never had the chance to do. (Assistant manager) Terry (Venables) is also there and it gives me a chance to be around it.

'If you're the full-time England Under-21 coach and you are not at the senior game the following night then there is something wrong. That's the standard my boys have to achieve.'

The sparkling form of Michael Johnson for table-topping City is likely to earn him a first cap after making the provisional 30 for Holland.

'If you come in and play well you want to play the next game, which is what everyone wants to do,' said the 19-year-old.

James Milner will equal Scott Carson's record of 29 under-21 caps if he plays a part, and the Newcastle midfielder is one of the contenders for the captaincy in the absence of Taylor.

'I spoke to Steven on Sunday to congratulate him on his call-up and tell him he'll be captaining this side when he's available to play,' said Pearce.

Pearce is expecting a stern test, adding: 'Romania have done well and drew against France and beat Malta.

'It's going to be tough but our players have to say `I need to enhance my reputation here with this manager'.'