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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb, 2, 2011

Oxlade-Chamberlain gets Under-21 call

Sought-after Southampton star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been handed his first call-up to the England Under-21 squad for next Tuesday's friendly with Italy.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, a target for Manchester United and Arsenal during the transfer window, was one of three new faces named by Stuart Pearce for the game in Empoli.

He was joined by Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez and Middlesbrough defender Joe Bennett in a 22-man party for what is England's first match of 2011.

As expected, Jack Wilshere was not selected for the match, with Fabio Capello having indicated the Arsenal midfielder will start the full international with Denmark the following evening.

But Sunderland's Jordan Henderson returns to the Under-21s following a disappointing senior debut against France in November, while full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Micah Richards and goalkeeper Scott Loach also dropped back down.

Daniel Sturridge, who joined Bolton on loan from Chelsea on Monday, was handed a recall as was West Ham's James Tomkins - his first for more than a year - and Aston Villa's Fabian Delph.

But Sturridge's Stamford Bridge team-mate Josh McEachran, who earned his maiden call-up for November's friendly with Germany, was omitted.

As well as Wilshere, Pearce will be without the injured Danny Welbeck, Danny Rose, Michael Mancienne, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones.

He told the FA's website: "We're missing a number of players through injury, but it will give me a chance to look at a few new players. Rodriguez has been playing well for Burnley and deserves an opportunity with the under-21s.

"Likewise, Joe Bennett at Middlesbrough has previously played for the under-19s and his performances for Tony Mowbray have been impressive. I also saw Southampton play Manchester United in the FA Cup on Saturday and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is showing a lot of promise so we thought we'd bring him into the squad too.''

Next week's game continues England's build-up to this summer's Under-21 Championships in Denmark, with further friendlies set to follow.

Pearce added: "We're now looking ahead to the tournament in Denmark and this game, and the ones coming up in March, will give players the chance to try and cement their place in the final 23 for the summer.

"Earlier this season, maybe less than half of our squad was playing every week, but now nearly everyone is turning out in the Premier League or Championship on a Saturday afternoon.

"Daniel Sturridge has played in a number of games for Chelsea, but hasn't had a lot of minutes, so his move to Bolton is very important and could give him the chance to start more often and gain more experience in the Premier League.

"Martin Kelly is playing regularly at Liverpool, James Tomkins has had a long run in the West Ham side and is back in for the first time in over a year, while Fabian Delph returns to the side too, so we have a strong group of players.

"And the message will be that we have games coming up for the players to impress upon the coaching staff their credentials for a place on the plane to Denmark.

"We want to have a tough job of narrowing down to 23 so we have the best chance of success in the summer.''

England Under-21 squad: Fielding (Blackburn), Loach (Watford), Steele (Middlesbrough); Bennett (Middlesbrough), Gibbs (Arsenal), Kelly (Liverpool), Mee, Richards (both Manchester City), Smalling (Manchester United), Tomkins (West Ham), Walker (Tottenham); Albrighton (Aston Villa), Cork (Chelsea), Delph (Aston Villa), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton), Henderson (Sunderland), Lansbury (Arsenal), Muamba (Bolton), Rodwell (Everton), Sinclair (Swansea); Delfouneso (Aston Villa), Rodriguez (Burnley), Sturridge (Chelsea).

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