Reo-Coker ready for Wembley experience

Nigel Reo-Coker is in line to make history tomorrow, as the first captain to lead out an England team at the new Wembley Stadium, when the Under-21s host Italy in a friendly ahead of the European Championship finals in the summer.

The Hammers midfielder appreciates the enormity of the occasion but also insists that, while the encounter against the Italians may be a friendly, it is crucial preparation for the finals in June.

"It is obviously billed as a friendly but to us it's just as important as any other game," he says. "Both teams are in the finals and this is the last match before the real thing in the summer so it is vital we get a win to give us confidence going into the tournament.

"It is obviously a tremendous honour for all of us to be involved with the first game to be played at the new Wembley but we are really trying to stay focussed on the job in hand and, regardless of where we play the game, the aim would always be to win it."

Not only could Nigel be putting his name in the history books for being one of the first players to appear at the new Wembley, but he is also set to become the first England captain to lead his side out onto the brand new hallowed turf, an honour he would once again cherish. However, he is taking nothing for granted.

"If that turns out to be the case then of course that will be a tremendously proud moment for me, but again I am not concentrating too much on that as anything can happen between now and the game being played.

"If I do get selected and handed the armband it will be an honour for me to be the first person to captain a team at the new Wembley and I will take the role as seriously as I always do. However, for now it is all about the preparation and that is what I am focusing on."

The team - led by coach Nigel Pearson on this occasion - have been training hard all week, including a session yesterday at Wembley that was attended by Hammers legend Sir Trevor Brooking, and 22-year-old Nigel is confident the occasion will get the result it befits.

"Everyone is feeling good and looking good in training," he says. "It is a fairly settled squad so everyone is familiar with each other which always helps. There have been a few new inclusions but they have settled in well and it is always good to see more and more young English talent breaking into the international set-up at this level.

"We have trained at the stadium which has been fantastic and obviously helps our preparation immensely for Saturday.

"All the coaches here have been great and have established a good foundation for us to work from throughout the qualifiers. Obviously there has been a change in management with Stuart Pearce coming in but the transition was easy, he is unable to be with us for this match but we have other good coaches here to work with that keep us training at the highest levels and make it clear what is expected of us. Nothing but a win will be good enough as far as we are concerned."

Having returned to the Hammers starting line-up after a two-match suspension and resumed the captaincy for the much-needed victory over Blackburn at the weekend, Nigel agrees that having another two-week break hasn't come at an ideal time after the win, but he is still confident the squad will use the time productively to prepare for Middlesbrough next week and carry on with the fight for survival.

"It was a very important result for West Ham United and I think the whole squad were in agreement that having another game sooner rather than later would have helped keep up the momentum, but there are a few of us on international duty and I am sure the lads that aren't away are working just as hard in training to push on from that result.

"We have to take the confidence from that win into the final run-in of the season. We have always said we felt it would take one win to kick-start us into a run that sees us avoid relegation and we still firmly believe that."

By Miranda Nagalingam