Jack Collison on international duty this afternoon with Wales and is looking to play a key role in a crucial European Under-21 Championship qualifier.
The 19-year-old reserve-team captain is in Malta for the fixture which could see Wales take first place in qualifying group 10. After collecting nine points from their first four fixtures, the principality are two points behind Romania and France but have one and two games in hand on the leaders respectively. For Collison, it is also a high-profile chance to show off his talents.
"Obviously at international level you are playing against top-class players and that can only help me raise my own game," the midfielder said. Collison made a significant impact on his U21 debut last November, scoring a stunning solo goal to round out a 4-0 home victory for Wales against Bosnia-Herzegovina. He followed that up three days later with a fine display against a strong visiting France team, as Wales won 4-2.
Collison added: "Last time I got called up, we got two positive results and, if we win, we can go top of the group, which is a great position to be in for the last couple of games." After the Malta fixture, Wales go to Bosnia-Herzegovina on 26 March before home and away games against Romania on 20 August and 10 September. Overall, the ten group winners and four best runners-up will advance to October's play-offs, with the seven sides coming through that stage progressing to the final round in Sweden in June 2009.
"It would be great to qualify for the finals. Also, I'm not playing that regularly at the moment, so these matches will come in handy for me. We don't have many reserves games and, while I am in and around the squad, I don't feature every week so the international break will be good for me to get these games under my belt."
Collison, who made his senior debut for West Ham United as a substitute against Arsenal on New Year's Day, was yet again with the first team for Saturday's fixture at Wigan Athletic. "This season has been very good for me so far. At the start, I got to travel away with the first team, then I made my international debut and then my debut for West Ham against Arsenal.
"I just have to carry on working hard and keep pushing on, to cement a place at West Ham and in the Welsh squad. Making it to the senior teams on both accounts is the aim. With Wales, I scored last time around and it would be nice to get on the score-sheet again and hopefully make another good impression."