ENGLAND’S young guns have been backed to soar at the World Cup.
Pompey hero Noel Blake believes the next generation of Three Lions talent can handle the pressure of flying the flag for the nation in Brazil.
The clamour is growing for Roy Hodgson to unleash the youngsters in his squad in their tournament opener against Italy tonight.
Blake knows those pushing for a starting place from his position as manager of England’s under-19 set-up.
The former Blues defender believes they have the strength of mind to handle being thrown into action.
Blake said: ‘With the current crop there’s a lot of pace and there’s a lot of talented individuals who the manager has put into a framework with a team ethos.
‘We have the players and the ability.
‘There are 11 in the squad I’ve worked with. You’re talking the likes of Sturridge, Welbeck, Shaw, Henderson, Smalling, Jones, Sterling, Barkley, plus those on standby. They all have different attributes.
‘Ross Barkley, for me, is a top, top talent. He is a very single-minded lad.
‘But you could say that for all of them.
‘They know what they want to achieve, but they are nice, grounded people as well.
‘I seen them recently at St George’s Park and they haven’t changed. Nothing fazes them.
‘They know what it’s about. Barkley has played in the under-20s World Cup and European finals.
‘They’ve had the right apprenticeship of international football. There is a good, young crop there.’
Much of the talk in the build up to tonight’s clash in Manaus has been based around whether Hodgson will start Everton’s Barkley.
Blake looked on in 2010 as Barkley suffered a double leg break on England duty.
He has seen him show the strength of character to battle back from that test, and that tells him he has the mindset to handle the pressure in South America.
‘I’ve worked with Rossy and he broke his leg colliding with one of his own team-mates, Andre Wisdom,’ added Blake.
‘It happened right in front of me in 2010 and it sticks with me.
‘To see what that lad has achieved and overcome is a delight for me.
‘He’s got stronger physically, mentally and is in the World Cup now.
‘I’m pleased for him, his family, his club and the nation, really.
‘He’s an absolute talent who can play anywhere on the football field. Give him a shirt and he’ll play.
‘He played everywhere for me. He’s a football nut.
‘People like him and Sterling just want a football and to go and play.
‘They all enjoy their football and love the game.
‘I can picture Luke Shaw up and down the flanks laughing and joking.
‘They love what they do, so I’m pleased for them.
‘Now they have to perform when given the opportunity.’
World cup fever grips city n Pages 14-15