England Under-21 forward Wilfried Zaha says he was not expecting such a high quality of opposition after their disappointing exit from the European Championship.
Stuart Pearce’s side crashed out of the tournament, finishing bottom of their group after losing all three of their matches and failing to score a goal in open play, leading to criticism of the players by the Young Lions coach.
But Zaha, who joins Manchester United this summer, is adamant the players gave all they could but just could not produce.
“We didn’t expect all that quality,” the 20-year-old told the Daily Telegraph.
“It’s not to do with effort. There was no-one who didn’t try hard enough. Maybe we weren’t used to playing in tournament games under so much pressure. Every time we pull on the shirt, we try hard.
“I can’t really blame my performances on a long season. When I play, I just give it my all, 100 per cent. I had a little niggle but just ran through it.”
Pearce bemoaned the lack of young stars such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck, who have all featured heavily in the senior squad, but Zaha rejected suggestions the coach’s complaints affected the players’ confidence.
“It never really made any difference,” he added.
“If the gaffer thinks there’s a couple of players who could have improved the team, there’s nothing we can do about it, we can just try our hardest.”
Liverpool defender Andre Wisdom, who captained the Young Lions in the defeat to Israel, hinted that the players found it hard to perform under the weight of expectation but is determined to turn things around.
“Expectation is always high and you have to perform when you pull on this shirt,’’ he said.
“We can’t let it happen again.”