Ince demands strong finish

As England Under-21s head into their final Euro group qualifier in Moldova on Tuesday night, Tom Ince will have a familiar feeling.

The Hull City forward was part of the Under-21s squad who finished their group stage with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan two years ago, a game in which Ince made his debut at this level.

He’s since gone on to collect 15 caps for the Under-21s and is one of the most experienced players and a regular in Gareth Southgate’s squad.

Moldova v England 

UEFA European U21 Championship
Group One Qualifier

5pm BST, Tuesday 9 September 2014
Sheriff Sports Complex, Tiraspol

And the 22-year-old now wants to see the Three Lions bring the group stage to a close with another win ahead of the play-offs next month.

“I’ve been [at this stage] before,” said Ince, from the squad’s base in Kaunas. “We’ve had a great campaign and we want to have a strong finish on Tuesday against Moldova.

“That would be a great run for us, but then there are the play-offs in October and we’ll find out who we get next week.

“But we’ve got enough ability in this squad and we’d feel confident going into the Euros, but we’ll take it one step at a time.”

Ince was part of the team which beat Lithuania on Friday night to make it eight wins from nine games in Group One, an impressive return for Southgate’s men.

And the former Liverpool and Blackpool winger wants to take the positives from that match into the next three games, including the two play-off ties.

“Lithuania made it hard for us on Friday, but I think we had over 700 passes and 70 per cent of possession,” he added.

“When you’ve got things like that, and better teams won’t park the bus like Lithuania did so we will have more chances, there are bigger tests for us.

“But if we keep playing and sticking to our game plan, I think we could cause some problems.

“With the quality that we’ve got and the new additions to the squad, we’re confident that we can go through into a big, major tournament.”

With top spot in Group One already secured, the next stage of Euro qualification is the play-offs for which the draw takes place in Switzerland on Friday.

The 10 group winners and four best second-placed nations will be paired up in seven two-legged ties, with the winners heading to Czech Republic for the Finals next summer.

England Under-21s

Ince is one of the most experienced players in the England U21s’ squad

“It’s difficult and you have to treat it like a cup final,” explained Ince. 

“It’s only two games and it’s not one of those where you can afford to not turn up for one and then go to the second leg. You’ve got to be on the ball in both games and whoever we play, it will be tough.

“When you normally finish top of your group, you think you could relax until next summer but it comes around quickly and whoever we get, we have to be prepared and make sure everyone stays fit in between.

“We’ll come back together in October and I’m sure the gaffer will have a game plan for whoever we play.

“If we can get the ball down, attack and create chances, then we have nothing to fear.”

The play-offs also bring back mixed memories for Ince, who featured in both legs of the 2013 tie against Serbia, which ultimately ended in victory for England and a trip to Israel for the Euro Finals after a late Connor Wickham goal secured a 1-0 win in Krusevac.

But the game also made headlines for the wrong reasons following a string of unsavoury incidents at the end of the match.

“It’s an experience that will never leave me,” admitted Ince. “But we got through to the Euros, and that was the biggest thing.

“As a player who has been there last time, it’s down to the likes of me and Jack [Butland] to speak to the other boys about what to expect.

“It’s a whole new squad, a new regime with different people in charge and younger players coming into the system so it will be new for them.

“It’s a new mix-up but I think with the players that we’ve got, we’re more than confident.”