Walcott wins first England Under 21 call

August 9, 2006

Theo Walcott and Scott Carson, who were part of England's World Cup squad in Germany, have been named in the 23-man squad for the opening European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Moldova at Portman Road next Tuesday.

Walcott's selection this summer by former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson was heavily criticised given that fellow strikers Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen were lacking full sharpness after lengthy injury lay-offs.

It is the Arsenal striker's first under-21 call-up having been transferred from under-19 level into the senior squad by Eriksson.

Liverpool goalkeeper Carson was included after Norwich's Robert Green was injured in the `B' international against Belarus at Reading in the build-up to the finals.

Charlton striker Darren Bent, who was on standby for the World Cup, will return to Ipswich where he enjoyed considerable success before moving to The Valley 12 months ago.

Sunderland goalkeeper Ben Alnwick and Manchester City defender Micah Richards have been included by under-21 coach Peter Taylor for the first time.

Taylor, also manager of Crystal Palace, said: 'We've got a great group of players which has obviously been strengthened by having Darren Bent, Theo Walcott and Scott Carson in the squad.

'We are in a three-team group with Switzerland and Moldova and will be looking to get our season off to a positive start.

'Portman Road has been a fantastic venue for England matches at various levels in the past, and I'm sure we'll get great backing from the local fans.'

England head coach Steve McClaren said: 'I wanted Darren, Scott and Theo to have the chance to play some competitive under-21s football.

'Darren has just come back from injury, Theo has not yet played a Premiership game and Scott faces stiff competition for games at Liverpool. The Moldova match will be very positive for all three of them.

'They are all still very much in my plans. I see the under-21s as a very important stepping stone to the senior team and I will keep a close eye on them this season.'

England's following game is away to Switzerland on September 6 in Lucerne. Winning the three-team group will mean progressing to a two-legged play-off in October against one of the other 13 group winners.

The eight-nation European Championship finals take place in June 2007 in Holland.

England have played Moldova twice previously at under-21 level, both in UEFA qualification matches, winning 2-0 in Chisinau in 1996 and 1-0 in Wycombe the following year.