Stuart Pearce: Jesse Lingard's England opportunity and San Marino memories
West Ham United coach and England legend Stuart Pearce is hoping Hammers Declan Rice and Jesse Lingard can help the Three Lions kick off their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with a win over San Marino on Thursday evening.
Pearce told talkSPORT he is hoping England can mark Gareth Southgate’s 50th game in charge by building on the success he has already enjoyed in reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and 2019 UEFA Nations League.
And with Rice and Lingard potentially involved at Wembley, the former defender, who earned 78 caps and featured at three major tournaments during an illustrious career, is looking forward to watching Southgate’s young and exciting squad in action.
Jesse is really good. He’s been brilliant, to be fair. He’s got a lovely, bubbly personality on the pitch, he’s full of energy and, more importantly, he’s been getting game time
“I think it’s been really good,” observed the former England U21 manager. “I think the feeling around the England squad has been really good over the last few years he has been involved. The media have got onside and it’s been the best environment around the England squad, certainly in the last few years that I’ve known, which I think is really good.
“Some of the football has been outstanding and some of the young players who are coming through, people are fighting for places within the squad, which I think is fantastic and I think we’ll see one or two players who have come into the squad and don’t have many caps get their opportunities this evening.
“I’m delighted Jesse has got back in the squad. When he first joined us at West Ham, I asked him if he had got aspirations for England and he’s certainly convinced me he did and his form has been brilliant, and he is just one of a few players who have got an opportunity now.
“Jesse is really good. He’s been brilliant, to be fair. He’s got a lovely, bubbly personality on the pitch, he’s full of energy and, more importantly, he’s been getting game time. West Ham has been really good for him and he’s been good for West Ham, it’s fair to say.”
For Pearce, Thursday’s World Cup qualifier also brings back memories of the nightmare start he and England made to their encounter with San Marino back in November 1993.
The Three Lions needed to beat the microstate by seven clear goals and hope the Netherlands lost to Poland to qualify for USA ’94, only for Pearce’s under-hit backpass to enable Davide Gualtieri to put San Marino in front after just eight seconds in Bologna.
England recovered to win 7-1, with all seven goals being scored by former or future Hammers in Paul Ince, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand, but it was not enough as the Dutch won 3-1 in Poland to finish second behind group winners Norway.
“In those days, and we’re talking about yesteryear now, fair play and gentlemanly conduct were in, so I thought it would be nice to give them a goal, but I hope the boys don’t do that tonight!” he joked. “It was a moment of weakness on the football pitch, sadly, whereas now I have a moment of weakness around the cake counter!
“To be fair, we had to win the game by seven clear goals and hope the Dutch lost their game and, when I walked in afterwards, I knew that goal would have only mattered if the Dutch hadn’t won, because if the Dutch had dropped points we’d have missed qualification for the World Cup by one goal, so it could have got worse!”
Thursday’s Group I qualifier will be broadcast live by ITV1, with kick-off at 7.45pm.