Trio begin U21 campaign

West Ham United duo James Tomkins and Junior Stanislas will be gunning for a winning start when England's Under-21s begin their 2011 UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign on Friday.

Former Hammer Stuart Pearce's could name both Tomkins and Stanislas in his starting eleven for the opening fixture against FYR Macedonia at the Goce Declev stadium in Prilep. Freddie Sears, who is on a season-long loan at Crystal Palace, is also in the 23-man squad.

The trio will travel to Greece for their second Group Nine fixture next Wednesday evening, where they will tackle the hosts at the Asteras Tripolis stadium in Tripoli Arkadia. The Greeks have already played two qualifiers, beating FYR Macedonia 3-1 and Lithuania 1-0. Portugal are the fifth team in England's group.

Tomkins was part of the England squad for this summer's UEFA European Championship finals tournament in Sweden, appearing twice as the Young Lions finished as runners-up to Germany.

The 20-year-old centre-back earned his fourth cap in last month's goalless friendly draw with the Netherlands and is expected to partner Wolverhampton Wanderers' on-loan Chelsea defender in Macedonia.

Stanislas, meanwhile, made his full U21 debut in Groningen, before being replaced by club-mate Sears with seven minutes remaining.

With the likes of West Ham's Mark Noble, Aston Villa's James Milner and Manchester City's Micah Richards now too old for U21 duty, Pearce has called on his new batch of young stars - including Tomkins, Stanislas and Sears - to step up and help England to reach the 2011 finals in Denmark.

"The game against Holland about three weeks ago was vital for us. I've got maybe eleven or 12 players who had not represented the squad at this age group before, and now we've got five qualifiers before November, so it was important they got their feet under the table.

"We can't afford to drop too many points, that's for sure, and we're in a tough group, so that will be important to us."

Following their opening two fixtures, England's U21s will play host to FYR Macedonia on Friday 9 October and Portugal on Friday 13 November, before travelling to Lithuania on Tuesday 17 November.

Elsewhere, Georg Grasser is part of the Austria U20 squad for a friendly international against Germany in Altach on Friday.