Nigel boosted by England under-21 glory

Having captained England under-21s this week to a 3-0 aggregate play-off victory over Germany that secured their place at the European Championship finals next June, Nigel Reo-Coker headed back to Upton Park full of confidence and looking forward to the return to Premiership action.

"We worked really hard to earn the right to get to the finals next year and I am really pleased we qualified," says the 22-year-old midfielder. "Obviously I was disappointed by not making the finals last year, so I felt like I owed it to myself and to my team-mates to make an impact and help us go all the way this time."

Even though the skipper will be 23 by the time the finals are played next June, he explains how he'll still be eligible to take part.

"If you start a qualifying campaign then, despite your age by the time you reach the finals, you are still allowed to play, which is good really as it would have been disappointing to work so hard at helping the team get there and not be able to see it through and take part."

Reo-Coker also sees juggling club football with country as a very positive thing that can help him at domestic and international level.

"I always really enjoy my time with England immensely and get a lot from working alongside Peter Taylor who I really hope stays on as the manager," he says. "I always try and use things I learn at West Ham when I am away with the national team and vice versa. My time away this time obviously involved two wins and qualification for the finals so hopefully I can take the confidence I gained from that into the game against Portsmouth this weekend."

Hammers are in action tomorrow for the first time since our 1-0 defeat against Reading on October 1, when Reo-Coker was substituted with five minutes to go. Various tabloid papers the following day reported that the captain had thrown his armband to the ground as he walked off the pitch, something Nigel would like to put right.

"I can categorically state that what the papers said about me throwing my armband down after that game was absolute rubbish," he says. "I have seen the Sky pictures that clearly show me passing the armband to Marlon so I don't know where it came from.

"I am a very passionate player, I am a winner and I hate to lose and anyone who knows me personally knows that about me. I was just frustrated at how the game had gone that day and nothing else, and I think it would have looked worse if it had appeared I didn't care."

Tomorrow sees the Hammers travel to Fratton Park to take on former Hammers boss Harry Redknapp and his new-look Portsmouth side, who have started the season with a flourish. Last season it may have been considered an easier place to go but Nigel insists it is never easy in the Premiership.

"It is a cliché but every game we play in the Premiership this year will be a tough one," he admits. "Whether a team is at the bottom or the top, especially with this being our second season, they are going to know us a lot better now.

"It will be a very tough physical encounter playing against a lot of experienced professionals. They are playing very well at the moment and will be very high on confidence, so it's going to be difficult.

"I think they have the right balance this season - a lot of good experienced Premiership players with some younger more unknown names, but that is quite similar to us with the likes of Teddy Sheringham and Christian Dailly, so it should be a good even game."

The start to this year's campaign is that much more disappointing to many because of how much of a contrast it is to last year but the young skipper is not letting that prey on his mind.

"If I am honest I have put last year behind me," says Nigel. "I am purely concentrating on the here and now as you can't always dwell on the past as it can often affect your future.

"We haven't started as well as we would have liked and we are going through a bad patch, but all we need is a win or two to turn things round, starting tomorrow at Portsmouth."

By Miranda Nagalingam