Pearce warns young Lions in Serbia: You're playing for your England future
22:00 GMT, 15 October 2012
Stuart Pearce has warned his players they may never play international football again if they squander a golden opportunity on Tuesday night.
The Under 21s are 90 minutes away qualifying for a record fourth consecutive European Championships but head coach Pearce is well aware their position remains precarious against Serbia, given England only won the first leg 1-0.
Pearce is confident his players can handle the pressure and intimidation of a 10,000-capacity crowd here in Krusevac and has great belief that a journey which started against Azerbaijan in Watford last September will continue all the way to Israel next summer.
Slender advantage: England U21s lead Serbia by one goal after the first leg
However, he has coldly pointed out that a failure to protect the lead they established in Norwich via a penalty from West Brom’s Craig Dawson means, for certain players, the chance to pull on an England shirt again will be gone for good.
‘This is the most difficult tournament to try and qualify for,’ said Pearce. ‘We have won eight of our nine games and it means absolutely nothing. If we have a bad night, then some of my players might not play international football again.'
Butland: Smith, Dawson, Caulker, Rose: Henderson, Lowe: Sterling, Zaha, Ince: Sordell.
Referee: Huseyin Gocek (Turkey)
Radio: 5Live updates
That is the nature of it for those who go out of the age group and do not progress into the seniors. That is something the players have got to handle. Quite a few of our players are used to playing under high pressure. Our last 14 months are tied up in 90 minutes and they have to handle that.’
Some will inevitably wonder what failure might mean for Pearce, too, given his current contract expires next summer and there have been no discussions about renewing his terms. He, though, is relaxed about the situation and does not believe there will be any hiccups.
‘You have to trust your players and your staff,’ he said. ‘We have created something over the last six years, a professional environment where everyone feels the result, from the kit man right the way through. That transcends on to the pitch. The players get on board and run with that.
Tantalising: Stuart Pearce is one game away from leading his team to Israel
‘When we enter a tournament, we show the players a route all the way to the final. You have to knock off markers along the way. We have got the opportunity here to get 50 per cent along the way to winning the tournament. What do I expect I expect us to win the game.’
Pearce is expected to start with the team that finished the first leg at Carrow Road but he says there was never a chance of Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey, who has stayed with the seniors for the World Cup qualifier in Poland, replacing the injured Jack Rodwell.
‘Myself and Roy (Hodgson) talked about Jonjo, who was suspended for the first game,’ he said. ‘There were other players who could have gone up into the seniors. But with Jonjo not available to us for the first leg, it was an ideal opportunity. Roy has given the Under 21s due diligence.’