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Team GB must be able to cope with pressure

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With international competition comes fresh hope and expectation for a national team to succeed.

Too many times has this spelled turmoil - England’s last World Cup win was in 1966, whilst penalty shoot-out heartbreak and a string of disappointing results have seen England crash out of many subsequent major tournaments in the last 16 or quarter-final stages.

Fortunes for Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 team are slightly different, however. The current Under-21 European Championships qualification campaign sees England occupy top spot, with five wins from six games placing them comfortably ahead of Norway and Belgium. Their last three home games have also seen them net 15 goals and concede none.

Manager Stuart Pearce will be taking control of Team GB throughout the Olympics, and he will be hoping his team of young talent can guide the nation to an Olympic medal.

Installed temporarily as caretaker manager of England in February until the appointment of Roy Hodgson, Pearce has been in charge of the England Under-21 national team since 2007 after a spell at Manchester City, and knows the England players better than anyone else in the country.

Pearce clearly feels this selection has the strongest chance of winning gold, but the pressure these youngsters will be under is something many will never have experienced before.

Performing on a global stage, in sold-out stadiums packed with enthusiastic home support, and millions of TV viewers worldwide, Pearce’s men must be at the peak of their game to compete for medals.

Under-21 performances bode for a successful Games

Pearce has experienced success with the Under-21 team previously, after strong Championship campaigns in 2007 and 2009 saw the team reach a semi-final and final respectively. In 2011, they failed to qualify from the group stages, narrowly missing out to Spain and a strong Czech Republic side.

Despite this, two players still made the team of the tournament having only played three games.

Whilst Tottenham’s Kyle Walker misses out on Team GB selection following a toe injury, Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley is part of Pearce’s Olympic set-up, and will be a valuable addition having missed a large chunk of the last campaign for the Premier League runners-up.

The 2012 Olympics is the first time Team GB will compete in the football tournament since rule changes in 1992 meant that only three over-aged players could be selected for each national side.

With Ryan Giggs recently appointed captain, alongside the experience of Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards, the team should have a solid spine, whilst the creative flair of Scott Sinclair and Danny Rose in particular will offer a fresh, exciting approach down the wings. Both youngsters perform in the Premier League regularly and are no strangers to sell-out crowds.

Aaron Ramsey has already had his fair share of publicity after consistently impressive performances in Arsenal's midfield, and looks to be a Premier League star in the making. Again, he is no stranger to the spotlight and should be able to handle the pressure accordingly.

Handling the pressure is key

In fact, only two of England’s likely starting XI have yet to experience regular Premier League game time.

Birmingham City's Jack Butland looks set to start between the sticks for Team GB, but he has spent most of the past two seasons on loan at League Two Cheltenham Town, whilst Bolton Wanderers striker Marvin Sordell has only made three top flight appearances for the club, following a January transfer from Championship outfit Watford.

On form though, both can be formidable players, and the experience around them should settle any big stage nerves.

Team GB must be able to rise above the pressure that will inevitably fall upon them for London 2012, but with a strong presence of seasoned players both over and under-23, this will hopefully not be a problem.

However, fans of the English national team know success is hard to come by on the international stage.

If Team GB’s players perform as well as they have in securing their positions in the squad, this summer should be one of excitement and glamour to be savoured in its entirety, no matter how far the team progresses.

By James Hartnett - Follow me on Twitter @JamesHartnett_

Follow Total Football on Twitter: @TotalFootball12

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