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Ward-Prowse out to put lessons to use for England

England midfielder James Ward-Prowse went back to school to explain why England's young footballers are ready to come of age at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

Ward-Prowse out to put lessons to use for England
Ward-Prowse out to put lessons to use for England ©UEFA.com

The UEFA European Under-21 Championship is a significant step in a footballer's education so for England's James Ward-Prowse, it began in a perfect place on Tuesday – at school.

The Southampton midfielder joined captain Jack Butland on a visit to the Heyrovského School in Olomouc, where they participated in a session with a group of 50 boys who study there while training with the local club Sigma Olomouc.

Tomáš Kalas, the Chelsea and Czech Republic U21 defender, was once an A-grade student there and in the case of Ward-Prowse himself, it is really not that long ago that he was an excited schoolboy enjoying the privilege of a morning of no lessons so he could watch England's 2002 FIFA World Cup matches from Japan. "I was eight – I remember it because we got let off school so we could watch it," he said, sitting in the school library.

He was like an excited schoolboy again during a recent end-of-season break when he bumped into Xabi Alonso and asked for a photo, but today the 20-year-old – like the rest of his England team-mates – has the task of showing just how grown up he is.

Manager Gareth Southgate has made the point of giving his players greater freedom off the pitch at this tournament and Ward-Prowse says they are ready to reward him on it. "I have never had this feeling with an England group before," he said. "The focus is there, the determination is there and everybody gets on well.

Ward-Prowse, a technically gifted midfielder from Southampton's highly productive academy, has gained a number of important lessons with England. He was in the team that finished bottom of a group containing Iraq, Chile and Egypt at the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years ago – there, he says, he learned about "managing the down time" between games.

Another formative experience came at last June's Toulon tournament. "It was one I will never forget and it really gelled us together as a team. The perception that people have of young English players is not great. We want to show that isn't the case. We want to play for England and do the country proud."

England lost to Portugal in Toulon but made amends by beating them 3-1 in an U21 friendly in November. Now the teams meet again on Thursday in their opening Group B match. "We have done our homework," he said. "We know what formation they are going to play. I think come the start of the game, we will be prepared for what they are going to throw at us. It is up to us to face up to the challenge.

"I have heard that [William] Carvalho is a big physical player, very good on the ball. But we are very excited for the start of the tournament – no matter who we come up against, we will be ready. "