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Jun 26, 2009

Pearce tells U21s to brace for Sweden shootout

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce has told his penalty takers they cannot opt out of the shoot-out on Friday night if their European Championship semi-final against Sweden goes the distance.

Pearce lost semi-finals on spot-kicks twice as a player and in 2007 was in charge of the U21s when they were knocked out of the European Championship at semi-final stage, losing 13-12 on penalties to eventual winners the Netherlands.

This time around Pearce's youngsters have been practising after each training session and staff have collated data and each member of the England squad has a ranking which will determine their position in the queue - with no player allowed to drop down the order.

''I will have a list of one to 23 penalty takers,'' he said. ''I know the order which we take penalties. The only thing in doubt is the 11 on the pitch at that stage.

''We have analysed the direction in which players take penalties, which is the most successful way for each of our players, the success rate of those players, and obviously the goalkeeper's technique in saving penalties.

''We have spent two years working on those lessons. From years gone by the one thing that comes out is that when a manager walked out to the centre circle they had no idea who his best penalty takers were. He would ask who fancies it. That is not exactly a precise science, is it?''

There is a danger of ignoring what goes on during the match.

At Italia 90, Paul Gascoigne was earmarked as a penalty-taker but did not take one as he was too distraught after receiving a yellow card before the shoot-out, ruling him out of the final.

As Pearce knows, that is all part of England's history as nearly men when it comes to penalties - one Swedish newspaper also described the under-21 coach as a ''nearly man'' for his own role.

After missing against the Germans in 1990, Pearce then scored against them during Euro 96 but still ended up losing the shoot-out. Both were at the semi-final stage.

''In my brief spell in international football as a player or manager we need to break through a semi-final barrier, that is for sure,'' Pearce said.

''Not only that we need to go and win something. I said two years ago that we have to put foundations down for the senior team in my opinion. If the under-17s, under-19s or under-21s are the first to win something then that sets the foundation for the seniors. That has to be done.

''Spain are a shining example. So are Italy. The success comes from lower down sometimes. Those group of players can go through together and know what it is like to win together. We want to try and put that marker down.''

Pearce's point touches upon England's appalling record in tournaments.

Since winning the Under-21 Championship in 1984, there have been 64 tournaments across the age groups and England have won just once.

That was in 1993 when an under-19 side won with Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes, Robbie Fowler and Gary Neville in the team. Darren Caskey scored the winner in the final.

''We have not been good enough,'' Pearce said. ''We are aware of it. If the stat is one win in 25 years then that is not good enough and we have to rectify that in the future.''

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