U21s take centre stage

Mark Noble and James Tomkins will fly the flag for West Ham United at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship which gets under way in Sweden on Monday.

The Young Lions are taking on Finland in Halmstad at 5.15pm London time before meeting Spain in Gothenburg on Thursday and then finishing their Group B campaign back in Halmstad on Monday 22 June against Germany. Noble is one of the most experienced players in the England and tipped to have the captain's armband while Tomkins could profit from concerns over Manchester City duo Nedum Onuoha and Micah Richards.


Whether he wears the armband or not, Noble is just happy to be involved and have the chance to improve on the semi-final feat of the 2007 finals. He said: "It is going to be a great tournament. I have been there before and the atmosphere and the coverage of it is fantastic. Hopefully we can go there and do well and I can come back a happy man at the end of it."

Confidence has been boosted by former West Ham United defender Stuart Pearce having agreed to stay on for another two years in charge of the U21s. Noble will be too old for the 2011 challenge but is determined to sign off in style. "I have been so close before and I really want to get there and win it this time. We have a tough group with Germany, Finland and Spain but I am sure we can cause those teams problems."

The tournament - to be shown live on Sky Sports - promises to showcase some of the best young talent in Europe. As well as the England No10 in Noble, the highly-rated performers on view will include Spain forward Bojan Krkic, Italy schemer Sebastian Giovinco and Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil. All are tipped as potential stars of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and will be out to catch the eye a year before those finals.