Pearce wants Agbonlahor if U-21's make finals

October 11, 2008

England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce allowed his mind to drift towards selection problems for next summer's UEFA Championship finals in Sweden - while Wales remained defiant despite a first-leg play-off defeat.

Pearce's youngsters claimed a crucial 3-2 victory at Cardiff's Ninian Park last night in a dramatic qualification play-off first leg and surely have one foot in the finals now.

The Welsh side - and, indeed, their opponents - were still insisting afterwards that the battle is not over, but it will take a monumental performance from Brian Flynn's team in Tuesday's second leg at Villa Park now.

Pearce refused to discount Wales after England conceded two goals for the first time in 15 games. To show how well Wales played, only Italy and Spain have done that to England in two years.

But when asked afterwards whether he would want the likes of match-winner Gabriel Agbonlahor with him in Sweden - considering by then the Aston Villa youngster could be in the senior squad - Pearce was very clear.

He said: "If we get through it will be a crime not to take your very best side to try to win it. England's senior side will have finished their games for the season, so we will need that experience.

"It starts on June 14 next year and we will want our best players there.

"I spoke to Gabby 18 months ago (after his non-appearance for selection) and since then he has been an integral part of this squad.

"He has shown me that he is a loyal member of the squad and wants to go to Sweden.''

But England know they must quell the Welsh fire a second time if they want to start thinking of appearing in the finals.

Wales midfielder Jack Collison, who fought a fierce battle all evening with West Ham club-mate Mark Noble said: "I had a little chat with Mark after the game, I told him to be ready for Tuesday night because we would be coming with all guns blazing.

"It was a disappointing result, but we can take a lot of positives from the match. We will go to Villa Park believing we can still get something out of the situation.

"The boys were very hungry to do well, I know their players had many hundreds of Premier League games behind them and we had virtually none, but our performance showed what we are capable of.

"We won't be bothered about who we are playing, we will still be going out to do our best.''

Wales led through Simon Church before David Wheater and Adam Johnson put England in command. But Church equalised before the break and it took an Agbonlahor back-heel to win it in the second period.

The Villa striker conceded how hard the game had been for an England side who extended their unbeaten run to 13 games.

He said: "We made it hard for ourselves in the first half, but it the second period we had more chances to win the game and in the end we did.''

Church, Wales' two-goal star who has never played a first-team game for Reading and is currently on loan at Wycombe, said: "The whole team showed tremendous attitude, especially coming back like we did in the first-half.

"We are a good team, we know what they can do and we will just have to be ready for them on Tuesday.

"We know we are the underdogs. But we have always believed in our ability and that showed through. We proved that we can play better football than them, that was the key.''