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The 51-year-old coach says he is focused on guiding the Young Lions through the group stage before looking ahead to bigger goals at the upcoming tournament in Israel

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce says the upcoming European Under-21 Championship is an opportunity for his players to stake their claim for a place in the Three Lions' squad for World Cup 2014.

Pearce's side will face Italy on Wednesday evening before completing the group stage with matches against Norway and hosts Israel.

And the former Manchester City manager says his focus is on securing progression through the first round before he sets his sights on bigger goals.

"We have been preparing for this for two years and it's an opportunity for some of the players to try and prove they are good enough to go to the World Cup next year," Pearce told reporters.

"We always set out to win and to be fair we have come through a tough play-off to get here. But we will try and win our group and go from there."

England did not make it past the group stage in Denmark in 2011 and Pearce admitted that this year's competition would not be any easier with the likes of Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands involved.

"I think it will be a fantastic tournament," he said. "It's a great setting and Israel are really looking forward to hosting it. There are also some really big sides here.

"Certainly for as long as I have been involved it's the strongest line-up of teams I have seen.

"Our players have had a fantastic week away in Turkey beforehand and both Wilfried Zaha and Nathaniel Chalobah have joined up with the squad yesterday.

"So we have a full complement of players which is really good and we are looking forward to getting started."

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