Jack Collison is looking forward to his first taste of international football after the promising midfielder's call-up by Wales Under-21s.
The 19-year-old is about to join established West Ham United colleagues Craig Bellamy, Danny Gabbidon and James Collins in playing for the principality after being named for two 2009 U21 European Championship qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and France this Saturday and Tuesday respectively. It is welcome reward for his progress from the Academy to the reserves, via several pre-season friendlies for the first team.
The weekend's Group 10 fixture in Wrexham will be a stern test but the second game next week at Cardiff's Ninian Park against France, who have not lost in their five group fixtures to date, promises to be particularly memorable. Les Bluets, who beat Wales 1-0 in Grenoble two months ago, are one of the leading nations at U21 level and look likely to go all the way to the 2009 finals in Sweden.
Despite being named reserve-team captain at West Ham United, Collison admitted he had not banked on being called for the games which will see Wales hoping to add to their three points from two qualifiers so far. "I spoke to [U21 manager] Bryan Flynn a week before the squad was named and he said there was an opportunity. To be honest, I didn't expect it but playing international football can only help my game more."
When asked about the influence of Bellamy, Gabbidon and Collins in electing to play for Wales, for whom he qualifies because his grandfather was born in Bedwellty, south Wales - Collison said he "hadn't really spoken to them properly" about it before making his decision. He is eager to take the chance though, sensing it as a "great opportunity" to show more of what he can do.
Youth academy director Tony Carr was naturally delighted to see the central midfielder get the call. "This is a big moment for Jack," he said. "There was a time when we thought he would be available for England, but this is a great chance for him to play at international level and it will be a fantastic experience for him. He will relish the opportunity and I am sure he will do well."