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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 21, 2007

Pearce proud of injury-hit Under-21 side

England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce will be at Wembley tonight hoping the seniors produce a similar performance to his youngsters in Portugal.

Pearce had a whole team of players out through injury but his makeshift line-up battled to earn a 1-1 draw and stay on course for the UEFA Championship play-offs. Victory over Republic of Ireland in February should seal it.

Attention now turns to the seniors, with Steve McClaren's side needing a point against Croatia to reach Euro 2008.

'I work for the organisation, the Football Association,' said Pearce. 'If the seniors don't get good results or we don't then the whole organisation suffers in some way.

'If we can get a result in a tough place like this, and the seniors win their group then all of a sudden we're looking forward to a European Championship next summer.

'If we get results next February we're a step closer ourselves.'

The Under-21s have not been beaten outright in a match for two years, but their record was under threat after three minutes at Estadio Municipal de Agueda when Vieirinha opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

It was the first goal England had conceded in qualifying for the finals in Sweden, but they dragged themselves back into the match and started creating chances.

Theo Walcott missed a one-on-one effort and David Wheater headed over twice from corners. Adam Johnson grabbed the leveller three minutes after the break with a sweet volley into the far corner after Joe Mattock's throw was allowed to bounce.

Pearce's youngsters finished the game strongly and Tom Huddlestone, Walcott and Johnson could have snatched a winner.

The performance was more impressive given the injuries Pearce's squad has suffered - Matt Derbyshire damaged his quad in a morning training session to join Gabriel Agbonlahor on the sidelines.

Steven Taylor was fit to start but only played 45 minutes with his back injury.

It reminded Pearce of the finals in the summer when England reached the last four in Holland.

'It rolled the clock back to the summer,' said Peace. 'We went into the game nervous and gave ourselves an uphill struggle with an early penalty after a nervous tackle in the box.

'That's why these players are playing at this level - to take that experience with them.

'The more the game went on the more confident and galvanised we looked. We felt more and more comfortable.

The main thing that shone out was the spirit that shone out in a difficult match.

'I'm immensely proud of them, baring in mind we had 14 players unavailable and six forwards out. They gave everything they had and I'm just disappointed they didn't win the game.'