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Injuries hit Pearce's England audition vs. Dutch

By Rob Harris

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 4:25 p.m. MST

England's interim soccer team manager Stuart Pearce, right, with Steven Gerrard, second right, Stewart Downing, second left, and Glen Johnson, during a training session at Wembley Stadium, in London, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. England will play a friendly soccer match against Holland on Wednesday Feb. 29 at Wembley Stadium.

Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated Press

WEMBLEY, England — The Netherlands boast the top scorers from the Premier League and Bundesliga, while England is limited to a trio of inexperienced strikers who have never scored an international goal.

But if interim coach Stuart Pearce felt troubled by England's injury problems ahead of Wednesday's friendly at Wembley, he wasn't showing it as he prepared for his one shot to convince the Football Association he is capable of leading the team at Euro 2012.

"We're in the home run for the championships in the summer and we have to find out about one or two in and around the squad," Pearce said Tuesday. "It's a great opportunity to find that out, playing against one of the favorites for the tournament."

Avoiding defeat against the 2010 World Cup finalists would be a triumph in itself for Pearce, who has been temporarily promoted from under-21s coach following Fabio Capello's sudden resignation earlier this month.

The Dutch swept through European Championship qualifying with nine straight wins and lost only in the final match with their progress already sealed.

No wonder, given the wealth of attacking options at Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk's disposal. There was no space for Heerenveen's Bas Dost, the Eredivisie's leading scorer, in the squad alongside Arsenal's Robin van Persie and Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar — the top scorers in the Premier League and Bundesliga respectively.

Although Van Persie was in discomfort at training on Tuesday with a groin problem, Van Marwijk is optimistic the scorer of 33 goals for club and country this season will still face England.

"We will have to wait and see but I don't think it's too serious," Van Marwijk said. "Robin is in great form ... normally he is a player who plays in combination, with others. He did that with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (at Arsenal) but now he plays very deep as a striker. He has the quality to score goals."

Van Marwijk insisted the English will not be underestimated due to their "fast, powerful players."

But with Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent out injured, England's only remaining forwards are Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, who have four international appearances between them, and uncapped Fraizer Campbell.

"I think they will acquit themselves very, very well," Pearce said. "Some will stake a claim for the summer, I hope the majority will."

While the injured strikers have not been replaced, Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott was called into the squad on Tuesday to take the place of Glen Johnson.

England will also be without midfielder Frank Lampard and defender Rio Ferdinand, who have been left out, and ousted captain John Terry, who is sidelined with a long-term knee injury.

It is the captaincy that ultimately carries little significance but attracts much attention in England. Capello quit after being undermined when the FA stripped Terry of the armband due to his upcoming criminal trial for racially abusing an opponent.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is the most likely choice as he returns to international duty for the first time since November 2010 due to injuries.

But Pearce will not tell his players — or the public — who will be captain against the Netherlands until Wednesday morning.

"The captain has got to be somebody who is in the starting XI, somebody who's got the respect of the other players in my eyes and someone who is unselfish and puts the group above himself," Pearce said.

A former captain himself, Pearce will be completing the journey from Wembley barman to boss on Wednesday, having served drinks during England matches 35 years ago.

"The course your life takes changes very quickly," the 49-year-old Pearce said. "I worked in the bar (at Wembley) as a 14-year-old schoolboy on England occasions. So I have a real connection with the place ... and it's a fantastic honor to be given this chance.

"Obviously, the people in the association look at me and think I can do a job in the interim."

But for how long?

While Harry Redknapp is the leading contender to take England to Euro 2012, Pearce has been insisting that he is up to the task despite spending the last five years coaching the England Under-21s after two years as Manchester City manager.

Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarrisUK

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