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Expectant England hope for fast start

With the disappointment of this summer's group stage exit in Denmark behind them, England set out on the road to Israel 2013 with coach Stuart Pearce looking to "hit the ground running".

England manager Stuart Pearce is confident his side can get off to a winning start
England manager Stuart Pearce is confident his side can get off to a winning start ©Getty Images

Having failed to get through the group stage at this summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Denmark, England embark on a new qualifying campaign with manager Stuart Pearce in high spirits.

While Pearce remains at the helm, he has seen the likes of Phil Jones and Frank Fielding move into Fabio Capello's senior squad. Despite having to draft in 12 uncapped players and missing Kyle Walker through injury, he is nevertheless confident his side will make a positive start to their Group 8 campaign when they take on Azerbaijan at Vicarage Road on Thursday.

The likes of Jordan Henderson, who will captain the side, Jack Rodwell, Nathan Delfouneso and Connor Wickham, who all featured in Denmark in the summer, are still eligible for the new two-year cycle and will bring valuable experience into the squad.

"We've got to hit the ground running because we can't afford to drop points," said Pearce. "Expectation follows England around and our expectation is to win this trophy again. Anything that falls short of that I will be disappointed with. Without a doubt it feels like we're starting again.

"We've got so many players that have come into the squad for the first time and so many that have been in the squad but not actually played a great deal. We've only got a couple that have got a fair amount of experience and although it is a real turnover of players I'm quite excited by it."

The current squad, featuring uncapped members such as Craig Dawson and Ross Barkley, as well as Liverpool FC trio Jon Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey and Andre Wisdom, are largely an unknown quantity to Pearce, whose team will also face Belgium, Iceland and Norway in their section.

"If you ask me at this moment in time I would say this will be my most difficult campaign," he said. "I'm not quite sure what to expect at the moment. It's the third squad that we've formulated since taking charge. I've got more question marks at the moment because I don't know the players as well but we've got a lot of ability.

"I have to get to know the players and they have to get to know me and the way I want them to play. It's a learning process and a growing process over two years. We have to make sure we improve steadily each game and get enough points to get in the play-offs and then win the play-offs."

After the Azerbaijan fixture, England face 2013 tournament hosts Israel in a friendly on Monday night. "Over the next two games I want to look at everybody in the squad so at the end of it I'll go into four really tough qualifiers in October and November knowing more about the players as characters and footballers."

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