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Friday 12 October 2012

EURO U21 play-offs: Pearce praise for Sterling performances

England Under-21 coach lauds 'outstanding' Raheem Sterling; Liverpool's Fabio Borini breaks foot

  • Raheem Sterling shields the ball from Steven Caulker in training for England Under-21s

  • Steven Caulker (right) is hoping to continue his Barclays Premier League form against Serbia

  • Fabio Borini is expected to be out for several weeks after breaking his foot with Italy U21s

Manager Stuart Pearce has hailed the contribution of Liverpool's Raheem Sterling this week as England Under-21s prepare to host Serbia in the first leg of their 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off at Carrow Road.

The 17-year-old has made huge strides since breaking into the Liverpool first team – and the England senior set-up – this season and Pearce has been impressed by the Jamaican-born wide man in training.

"Raheem has been outstanding," the former England full-back told The Football Association's official website. "He's brought his club form into the Under-21s and looks very good.

"Raheem Sterling has been outstanding. He's got his tail up and looks a handful"
Stuart Pearce

"He was given the opportunity to go with the seniors last month, and this time he's got the chance to vie for a place with the Under-21s. He's fitted in really well and he's brought the confidence he's been given by Brendan [Rodgers] with him. He's got his tail up and looks a handful."

Sterling was one of four Liverpool players called, although Jonjo Shelvey was drafted into Roy Hodgson's squad this week, while Andre Wisdom – like Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell – has been forced to withdraw with an injury, leaving Jordan Henderson as the remaining member of Rodgers' squad under Pearce's command.

Other Barclays Premier League players hoping for the chance to help England reach the finals in Israel next year include Norwich City's Ryan Bennett and Declan Rudd, Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne, Craig Dawson of West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City's Jack Rodwell and Connor Wickham of Sunderland.

United goalkeeper Ben Amos, who is on loan at Hull City, Chelsea midfielder Josh McEachran, who is plying his trade with Middlesbrough this season, and Aston Villa forward Nathan Delfouneso, at Blackpool are also in the frame.

Tottenham contingent

There is also a large contingent from Tottenham Hotspur. Defender Steven Caulker, who has been in a rich vein of form for his club having broken into the first team this campaign and started in the back-to-back Barclays Premier League victories against Manchester united and Aston Villa, is one of four Spurs players, the others being Adam Smith and Danny Rose, who is on loan at Sunderland, and Andros Townsend.

"This is a massive couple of games for us," Caulker, who scored his first Barclays Premier League goal against Aston Villa last weekend, told the club's official website. "We'll go into it with confidence as we won a lot of our matches in qualifying, but we know it will be tough."

"We'll go into it with confidence as we won a lot of our matches in qualifying, but we know it will be tough"
Steven Caulker

Caulker has scored twice in six appearances for Pearce’s men, who won seven out of eight matches in their qualifying group. But England know they have their work cut out to find a way past an unbeaten Serbian outfit, who host them in the decisive return leg takes place in Krusevac on Tuesday.

"In my first campaign with the Under-21s in 2007, Serbia reached the final with the likes of [Chelsea defender Branislav] Ivanovic in the team," said Pearce. "They are a good side and we are under no illusions about that."

Manchester United's David de Gea and Chelsea's Oriol Romeu started for Spain as the defending champions put one foot in next year’s finals with a 5-0 victory over Denmark on Thursday evening.

In the other tie to take place on Thursday, the Netherlands won 2-0 away to Slovakia. Chelsea defender Jeffrey Bruma, who is on loan at Hamburg SV, started for the Dutch.

Borini blow

Italy take on Sweden in Pescara but must do without the services of Liverpool forward Fabio Borini, who was found to have a broken metatarsal in his right foot that is set to rule him out of action for several weeks.

In the other ties Germany are up against Switzerland, who have Aston Villa goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist in their squad, France play Norway and the Czech Republic take on Russia.

11 October results

Slovakia 0-2 Netherlands
Spain 5-0 Denmark

12 October fixtures

Czech Republic v Russia
Germany v Switzerland
France v Norway
England v Serbia
Italy v Sweden

For all the Barclays Under-21 Premier League fixtures and the latest league tables, click here

For latest news on the Barclays U21 Premier League, click here.

You can follow developments on Twitter with the Premier League's account @premierleague or via the hashtag #BU21PL

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Key Points

  • England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce praises Raheem Sterling ahead of UEFA EURO U21 play-off with Serbia
  • Steven Caulker predicting "massive couple of games"
  • Liverpool suffer blow as Italy U21 forward Fabio Borini breaks metatarsal in foot