ENGLAND Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce is confident forward Wilfried Zaha will be fit to start in their opening European Championship group match against Italy tonight in Israel.
Zaha, signed by Manchester United for £15m in January before being loaned back to Crystal Palace, was the only member of the 23-man squad unable to take part in full training yesterday at the team’s base in Netanya, as he continues to nurse an ankle injury.
However, Pearce still expects to be able to pick the 20-year-old tonight, who played 50 times for the Eagles last season and earned a full international cap in last year’s 4-2 defeat to Sweden.
“Wilfried is coming along nicely, we think we have a full squad to pick from,” confirmed former West Ham defender Pearce.
“He’s feeling good and in top form. The plan was always to put him in, do the warm-up, then work with the physios.
“His contribution the whole season for Palace, getting the move to Man United, then on top of that winning the play-offs, he’s been outstanding. He’s left a club back in the Premier League and will be a cult hero at Palace for what he has achieved for them.”
The only members of Pearce’s squad unavailable tonight are Danny Rose and Thomas Ince, who are suspended following ugly scenes which marred their play-off win against Serbia last year.
TEAM BY TEAM: U21 CHAMPIONSHIPS
In excellent form with nine straight wins. Euro champions in 1982 and ‘84
Key man: Wilfried Zaha
Underdogs, but will hope to make the most of home advantage
Key man: Nir Biton
Five-time winners, but did not qualify in 2011 and have something to prove
Key man: Marco Veratti
Only their second ever appearance
Key man: Ibrahim Abdisalam
Champions in 2009 and dropped just two points in qualifying
Key man: Lewis Holtby
Won tournament twice and among the favourites again under coach Cor Pot
Key man: Jordy Clasie
First appearance since 1998
Key man: Alan Dzagoev
Defending champions and favourites under leadership of Julen Lopetegui
Key man: Rodrigo Moreno