'Stakes are high' for England and Serbia

Successful in his two previous play-offs as England coach, Stuart Pearce is expecting a couple of nervy affairs when his team face Serbia next month for a place in the 2013 final tournament.

England will be hoping to make it three play-off wins out of three under Stuart Pearce
England will be hoping to make it three play-off wins out of three under Stuart Pearce ©Getty Images

As someone who has led England into the last three UEFA European Under-21 Championship final tournaments, Stuart Pearce knows better than most what it takes to negotiate the play-offs.

Speaking to UEFA.com after the draw paired his team with Serbia, Pearce described the tension and drama which accompanies this juncture of the competition.

His belief that the tie, to be played on 12 and 16 October, will be "very tight" is well founded, having guided England to narrow play-off victories against Wales (5-4 on aggregate) and Romania (2-1) in the past two editions.

"Our tie will be very tight over two legs, but the stakes are high now – it's a great experience for these players," said Pearce, who was not in charge when England defeated Germany to reach the 2007 finals. "Both legs are nervous affairs and the team that takes their chances and defends well will end up going to Israel."

The tie between two nations with an impressive pedigree at this level – Serbia and Montenegro were runners-up in 2004 while Serbia finished second in 2007, while England were beaten finalists three years ago – is one of three that pits group winners against one another.

"It's a real tough draw, no doubt about that," explained Pearce, whose charges are at home in the first leg, at Norwich City FC's Carrow Road stadium. "When you're in pot A you want to avoid those who have won their group in pot B. Serbia are an emerging side."

Savo Milošević, representing coach Aleksandar Janković at the draw in his role as director of selections for the Football Association of Serbia (FSS), said: "We have a very strong team, but England will be difficult. It will be very close.

"The problem for us is that most of our players are already in the senior team, but we still have a very good group. Everyone wanted to avoid Spain because they are great at every level, but we will still have to be at our best to overcome England."

Pearce has also seen some of his players gain full international recognition, notably Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who featured for England at UEFA EURO 2012. "In regards to previous years when I've been in charge, we are probably not as strong if I am being honest," conceded Pearce. "Saying that, we qualified by winning seven of our eight games, so that was impressive."