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Group is far from easy, says Pearce

Stuart Pearce warned against complacency after England escaped a nightmare draw for next summer’s UEFA Under-21 Championship finals.

The Young Lions almost landed the kindest possible opposition in Group A after being paired with hosts Israel, Norway and Italy, swerving defending champions Spain, Germany and Russia.

Holland completed Group B, with England automatically avoiding them as both sides were second seeds.

Spain helped knock Pearce’s men out of the last tournament in 2011, where they failed to progress from the group stage.

Germany, meanwhile, thrashed England in the 2009 final, while Holland beat them in an epic semi-final penalty shoot-out two years earlier.

But despite being given a good chance of reaching the last four once again, head coach Pearce said: “We are in with the hosts and they’ll be backed by some great home support.

“Norway, we know all about and there was very little between us in qualifying. Italy are technically very difficult to break down and we have experience of them in the past.

“On paper, it might look easy, but it never works that way.”

England beat Norway to top spot in qualifying Group 8, while Italy finished top of Group 7 before beating Sweden in the play-offs.

England are expected to open their finals campaign against the hosts, before meeting Italy and then Norway.

Matches will take place in Tel Aviv, Petah Tivka, Netanya and Jerusalem.

The finals will witness England’s first competitive game since their own acrimonious play-off win over Serbia.

Both sides still face punishment from UEFA over the ugly scenes that marred the second leg, during which some of England’s black players allegedly suffered racist abuse.

Stuart Pearce, the England U-21 coach.

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