Noble endeavour paying off

Mark Noble is relishing the prospect of meeting Spain in England's second game at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship on Thursday night.

The midfielder has memories of playing the Iberian nation at the 2004 UEFA European U17 Championship, when he was red carded for a foul that led to Cesc Fabregas sending eventual winners Spain through to the final from the penalty spot. Five years later, he is the captain of the U21s and looking to build on the 2-1 success against Finland in the opening Group B encounter in Sweden.

"It is obviously a great moment coming to a tournament like this," he said. "Going into the last Under-21 tournament in 2007 I expected to only be a squad player but I worked hard, as some of the players here have done like Kieran Gibbs who's come in and got into the team. To captain a side with some of the players and ability out on that pitch is a pleasure for me.

"Everyone knows we didn't play as well as we can against Finland but this is tournament football and if we play five games without playing as well as we can well I'd take that now. We've got Spain on Thursday, and will be training and preparing for that knowing we can play a lot better than we did."

The England No10 paid tribute to the resilience in the ranks to come back after Michael Mancienne's dismissal against the Finns. "To be fair they surprised us early on and we knew as a team we weren't playing as well as we can but in tournament football you have to grind out results. We had a bit of misfortune with Michael getting sent off but still as a group of players, and a group of friends, we dug it out and got the result.

"It's pretty similar to 2007. We have a lot of players who are playing regularly in the Premier League and then you've got those who've come in late to the squad and have added that bit of quality and enthusiasm that you need around the team.

"We've got a great bunch of lads this year, as we did two years ago, and hopefully we can just go that one step further than we did then and take that trophy back to England. That's why we're here and that's what we want to do."

His manager is certainly impressed by Noble's endeavour - although has not confirmed that he will retain the armband against Bojan Krkic and co when they meet Spain in Gothenburg. "I'm very pleased with the job he did against Azerbaijan and Finland as captain. I'll review it [the captaincy] again on Thursday when I decide my team but his contribution on and off the pitch is commendable. He's a big character in the team."