Declan Rice labelled Tuesday night a “proud moment” as he helped the Republic of Ireland’s U21s to a win on his competitive debut.
The teenager started and completed 90 minutes in the Boys in Green’s 3-1 UEFA European Championship qualifying victory over Azerbaijan.
Noel King’s side now top their qualifying group after they added Tuesday’s three points to their win over Kosovo in March ahead of the 2019 tournament to be held in Italy and San Marino.
Rice has been involved in all four of the Hammers’ matches so far this campaign, impressing in a central midfield role, and could make his London Stadium debut on Monday against Huddersfield Town should he be selected by manager Slaven Bilic.
The 18-year-old reflected on a moment to remember representing his country and looked ahead to the vital Premier League fixture.
“It was a very proud moment for me and my family, to make my competitive debut for the U21s,” the youngster said. “The start I’ve had to the season has been great and it’s another part that I will always remember.
“It would be a dream come true to play at London Stadium for the first time in a first team game if I get that opportunity on Monday. I’m very grateful to have been involved in every game so far, so I hope that can continue.
“With Ireland, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to qualifying, as a group. Two wins from two games is all that we wanted and it’s what we’ve got.
It would be a dream come true to play at London Stadium for the first time in a first team game if I get that opportunity on Monday
“It was still up to us to beat what was in front of us, though. When you go all the way to a place like that and win, it’s great to take the points home. It would have been so disappointing if we hadn’t.”
Rice – who skippered West Ham’s U23s last season as a centre-back – played in midfield alongside fellow Hammer Josh Cullen, who is currently on loan at Bolton Wanderers.
And the 18-year-old enjoyed teaming up with Cullen once again in his new, more advanced, role.
“You know what you’re going to get with Josh, and he’s a fantastic player,” Rice continued. “He’s had a couple of good years on loan and will be hoping to do it again in the Championship. He’s great to play alongside.
“To be honest, I’m really liking playing there [in midfield], and I can show off more of my ability there, in the middle of the park.
“But wherever any manager wants me to play, I’ll always play there and put in 100 per cent.”
Bilic’s men return to action on Monday after more than a fortnight without a game due to the international break when Huddersfield Town visit east London.
And despite the Terriers’ promising early form and the Hammers’ disappointment, Rice believes his team has it in them to turn things around.
“We just have to stay positive and keep working hard,” he explained. “We have have to try and make things right.
“For me personally, I feel like I can take back a lot of confidence from the international break having made my debut and a lot of the other boys won too.
“That’s definitely going to help us going back into Monday’s game.”