Noble is captain fantastic

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce has heaped praise on his captain fantastic Mark Noble.

The West Ham United midfielder led England to a 7-0 friendly victory over Azerbaijan on Monday as Pearce's squad completed their preparations for next week's UEFA European Championship finals.

Noble was in superb form at stadium:mk, showing his full range of passing and trademark tackling as well as being desperately unlucky not to get a goal to his name when his 28th minute strike flew into the net via a post and Azerbaijani goalkeeper Elchin Sadigov.

Afterwards, former Hammer Pearce was gushing over the performance of his skipper, admitting Noble was a natural contender to be named as captain for the finals, which begins in Sweden on Monday.

"Mark has been outstanding," said the U21 coach. "He's a chirpy character. We've lost [Newcastle United's] Steven Taylor which is a blow to this squad but Mark has done extremely well. I think he bounces off the players extremely well. With that in mind he captained the side and I think his performance was very good."

Noble is one of a handful of players who could be handed the armband for England's opening fixture against Finland in Halmstad, with Manchester City pair Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, Aston Villa's James Milner and Wigan Athletic's Lee Cattermole also in the running.

Whoever Pearce chooses, he is confident England's strong team spirit will see them unite behind their leader.

"The spirit is good in the camp. They all want to be there and all want to go. I've had them together for a couple of weeks and they've been fantastic on the training pitch and they took that camaraderie and ability on to the pitch on Monday.

"I'm pleased with what's on that aeroplane going to Sweden. Now it's down to them to have a tilt at this tournament if we can. I'm not sure who my captain will be. I think I've got a few candidates to captain this team and I'll decide that the night before we play Finland."

Noble is one of four survivors from England's run to the semi-finals of Euro 2007, when he scored twice in the U21s' heart-breaking 13-12 penalty shoot-out defeat by hosts the Netherlands.

The 22-year-old was joined by Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart and defender Onuoha and Villa winger Milner two summers ago, and coach Pearce believes their experience will be vital this time around.

"We're at the business end of these championships now and one thing I can guarantee is that 23 people will come back in three weeks time having had a fantastic experience at the championship," said Pearce.

"You've only got to ask the ones who went two years ago that, to a man, they had a great time. There was a bit of heartbreak and a bit of nervousness and a bit of everything but we enjoyed the camaraderie and everything we had between us. I think this group of 23 will go with the same mentality."

After opening their challenge against the Finns on Monday, England complete their Group B fixtures by facing Spain in Gothenburg on 18 June and Germany in Halmstad on 22 June.