The feel-good factor has returned to the England set-up in recent months, and the Young Lions are proving themselves to be one of the most talented international teams at their level.
High-spirited, today’s papers are full of praise for coach Stuart Pearce who, having experienced a difficult start to managerial life at Manchester City, is beginning to look like a wise head on young shoulders. A new 2-year contract extension is said to be in the offing for Psycho as a reward for his excellent work with England’s future crop of superstars.
But against France’s new generation Pearce will no-doubt afford his opponents respect, Les Bleus being the last team to hand the U21s a competitive defeat in open play having emerged as 2-1 victors back in November 2005.
Since then though, the Young Lions have upped the ante considerably. A combination of a new ethos when viewing the U21s, early qualification for this summerâ€™s U21 European Championships, the carrot of the 2010 World Cup being just around the corner, and the likes of Theo Walcott proving that age is no barrier for Fabio Capello, a new sense of opportunity now surrounds the U21s. This new sense of pride and opportunity was clearly evident in their last match, a 5-nil thrashing of Norway last weekend.
England will be expecting another win tonight at the City Ground. At the back Pearce’s team look rock-solid, with Joe Hart lining up in goal, protected by a back-four including bright upstarts Michael Mancienne and Nedum Onuoha. Across the centre of the park their is an experienced London feel as the Tottenham duo of Jamie O’Hara and Tom Huddlestone partner with West Ham’s Mark Noble – a threesome who have already amassed close to 200 Premier League games in their short-careers.
And up top there is a real threat. A confident Matt Derbyshire leads the line having scored three goals in just five appearances since his move to Olympiakos from Blackburn, flanked by the skillful talents of James Milner and Adam Johnson on either side.
The French though will not roll-over easily. Followers of the Premier League will identify Liverpool’s David N’Gog and Portsmouth’s Armand Traore in the visitors starting line-up. While fresh names to look out include Rennes striker Jires Kembo Ekoko and Monaco’s promising playmaker Yohan Mollo.
With that said, England are red-hot favourites for another victory. Boasting a record of 18-matches unbeaten, with eight wins in their last ten outings, it is no surprise to see the bookies offer odds of 4/5 on the England win.
101gg predicts: England 3 – France 1 (14/1)
Full match odds can be seen here.