Goal.com picks holes in the supposed key members of the Under-21 side, and asks whether any of them would be ready to represent the seniors at the World Cup...England can perhaps rightfully claim to possess the second best Under-21 football side in Europe, but their final two performances in the tournament were nothing short of abysmal. They capitulated against Sweden in the semi-final after storming to a 3-0 lead, and then were brushed aside, embarrassed and humiliated by historical foe Germany, who were playing as if it were business as usual, despite being labelled as underdogs by bookmakers prior to kick-off.
Not for the first-time did one of England's national side's buckle due to a poor showing in goal, but rather than level frustrations at Scott Loach, a player who spent a relatively recent spell at Conference club Stafford Rangers, perhaps Stuart Pearce needs to shoulder some blame in his selection. There is little doubting Pearce's will - his preparations for this tournament were nothing short of complex and thorough - but his touchline debacles and inability to keep his lid will cause the FA as much embarrassment as the scoreline.
Trouble allegedly flared during the competition between Pearce and Theo Walcott, with the former claiming it is not in his best interests to fall-out with a footballer who he would hopefully be working with for the next 15 years. Either he foresaw his own succession to Arsene Wenger's all-encompassing role at Arsenal or, and this is more likely, he was alluding to the notion that he will be the next national coach after Italian tactician Fabio Capello. But, like many of the European Under-21 runners-up, he is nowhere near ready for such a promotion.
Walcott was granted an opportune moment to shine in his own age group. This was the minimum to be expected considering his pacey and direct involvements in Arsenal's Champions League run the season before last, as well as his early season form in the campaign just gone, culminating in a thrilling hat-trick against Croatia on their own patch... for the seniors.
The Southampton academy graduate failed to step-up, though, and you would be hard-pressed to find a strong performance of his after a shoulder injury forced a five-month mid-season lay-off. Defenders often quiver with fear at the prospect of lining up against a player who has the pace of a 200 metre runner, but Walcott's decision-making needs drastic work if he is to reach the heights expected of him. He needs to lift his head, as all too often, at club-level especially, he runs into cul-de-sacs.
The roles that the senior-level are crying out for - a centre forward, a midfield playmaker and a solid goalkeeper - are not to be found in the Under-21s.
Mesut Ozil, the player who destroyed the Young Lions on Monday evening with his good vision, playmaking and ability to eye a nervy glovesman, is ironically the type of footballer that could easily be fast-tracked into Fabio Capello's XI, considering that the Three Lions, despite their recent great success, are still to yet find their replacement for Paul Scholes.
Neither will they find the heir to the goal-scoring throne vacated by Alan Shearer, nor someone whose hands can fill the gloves left by David Seaman. Not unless Joe Hart, an able 'keeper, can keep sheets relatively clean at St. Andrews.
It would be naive to assume that talent alone wins competitions. England have the talent - this is reflected in the experience that most members of Pearce's squad have at both club-level and with the U-21s - yet what England lack, and this seems to be the problem at all levels, at least in the past 20 years, is brass. Bottle. Pluck. The ability to see out a game and not buckle. The traits, again ironically, of a German.
Alan Dawson, Goal.com