Pearce reiterates concern over pool of players
England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce admits there is 'concern' about how many home-grown youngsters get a chance to impress in the Premier League - but maintained they can all take heart from playing alongside 'the cream of the world'.
Wembley will tonight provide the setting for some of England's most promising talent to showcase their skills in the final qualifier of the 2009 European Championships campaign against Portugal.
The likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who is expected to be fit following a stomach bug, have certainly made significant strides since breaking into the Aston Villa first team - the striker smashed a hat-trick on the opening day of the new season against Manchester City and has also been involved in the full senior squad.
However, Pearce feels the continued foreign influx does play something of a negative role, yet at the same time enhancing the environment for young talent to develop.
'We are concerned that there are not as many young English players, or even older English players, in the top league as they were some years ago,' Pearce said.
'We just have to make sure, the ones we have, that we coach them correctly and look at the positives.
'These guys are playing with the cream of the world, so whenever they go onto the pitch - for the Under-21s or the seniors - you can say 'listen, there are no surprises out there because all of the top players are in the same league as you'.'
Tonight will mark the Under-21s competitive debut at the new Wembley, having opened the renovated national stadium against Italy in a friendly during March last year.
Pearce's youngsters need only a draw to secure first place in Group Three - and even if they lose to Portugal, England should have enough points to reach a two-legged play-off in October as one of the best runners-up.
The chance to get a taste of the national stadium is something Pearce believes can only stand the players in good stead.
'Playing here are Wembley is vital. It will be a tremendous experience for them,' he said, with a crowd of more than 25,000 expected. 'What you don't want is a group of players who are trying to break into the senior national team for it to be their first time stepping out at Wembley.
'It will then not be new to them, not be daunting and be their home.'
Pearce believes the Under-21 side are progressing in the right direction as they work towards the 2009 championships in Sweden.
'Our aim is winning the tournament. This is another step of that way,' added Pearce, whose side reached the semi-finals of the last championships in 2007 before losing an epic penalty shoot-out 13-12 to hosts Holland.
'If we can get out of the group and make sure Portugal do not qualify, then that will help us in the long run.'