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England manager Stuart Pearce considers opening opponents Italy as favourites to win Group A but admits he has his own "burning ambition" to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship at the fourth attempt in Israel.Pearce has also highlighted the importance of their first fixture but said his side are full of confidence following a fantastic run of results. Italy coach Devis Mangia expressed himself content with the preparations but refused to be drawn on his side's prospects as the Azzurini target a record sixth title.
Stuart Pearce, England manager
It's an open group and quite often in tournament football it can hinge on a result in the first game, where you have to handle the nerves of the occasion. I think Italy are the favourites. They have some really outstanding forward players, good experience, and are a well-organised, hard-working side. They will have a good impression on this tournament from what I've seen on DVD.
[My] squad have got their tails up, they look bright, they look sharp. The group of players we've got as men are probably as good as we've ever worked with – they enjoy each other's company and [have] some fantastic individuals in the group, led by the captain and around him some serious footballers.
We're going into it on the back of winning nine games without conceding. We're going in with confidence very strong but you can't judge that till the tournament has finished. We are here to win the tournament and I would be really disappointed if there weren't seven other nations here to win it as well.
That is the message I will send out to the squad then [it's about] how many players can get tournament experience here and push on into the seniors with that experience. If I strip it down it is a burning ambition inside me is to win it, but [also it's about] me doing my job developing players.
2013 qualifying (including play-off)
P10 W9 D0 L1 F26 A3
Pearce reported a fully-fit squad for the game in Tel Aviv, declaring that winger Wilfried Zaha was "available for selection". He explained of the Manchester United FC player: "He has been a bit tight on an ankle but he is coming along nicely."
Devis Mangia, Italy coach
We are ready and we are focused on the game against England. We have done everything as seriously as we could, including in our training sessions. We have to take it game by game, we have to be focused. It will be difficult but, as we know, we are playing England in the first game. We are calm and we hope to do the best we can.
I am not speaking about favourites – I can say only after the third game what is going on in the group. I am not going to express who I think is the favourite in the section.
I think that the best eight teams are in this tournament. This a very high-level tournament and the best teams are present.
We started qualification with 28 players and eventually I had to select 23. However, even the other players have contributed to the finals. But these are the players who are going to play in the tournament. [Giulio Donati and Marco Crimi] are here because I think they are good players and they have earned their place in the team. Every time they play for the national team, they make a good contribution.
I'm not thinking about what's going on after the European Championship – who knows? There are 23 players here and there is another team behind those 23 players – they are doing the best they can to succeed. Marco [Verratti], Mattia [Destro] and Fabio [Borini] are in tune with the team and they are working hard. They have to gain their place in the team just like everyone else.
2013 qualifying (including play-off)
P10 W8 D1 L1 F31 A10
Devis Mangia reported a clean bill of health in his squad ahead of the England game and will have a full selection to choose from. He said: "All players are in good condition and they are ready for the tournament."
This will be the teams' 12th competitive U21 meeting, with each having four victories to their name and the remaining three fixtures ending in draws.
Did you know?
In 2004 on the day of the England-Italy game the Azzurini triumphed 3-1 in the semi-finals against Portugal on their way to the final where they beat Serbia and Montenegro to lift their fifth title.
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