Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhich of England’s Under 21 stars look set to make the step up? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Which of England’s Under 21 stars look set to make the step up? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Which of England’s Under 21 stars look set to make the step up?

As England thrashed San Marino to get their World Cup qualification campaign back on track, it was refreshing to see so many notable Under-21 internationals take their place in the starting line-up. Joe Hart, Kyle Walker,Tom Cleverley, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been recent Under-21 internationals while going further back, Leighton Baines and Michael Carrick were also regulars at that level.

So which of the current crop of Under-21 stars, who on Friday defeated Serbia 1-0 in the opening leg of their play-off to reach the European Championships next summer, can expect to make the grade up to senior honours?

Jack Butland – Already an England senior squad regular and will surely only be denied a multitude of senior caps by the relative youth of undisputed first choice Joe Hart. However, can expect to have a future in and around the senior squad.

Adam Smith – A Tottenham Hotspur youngster who has only made a handful of appearances at Under-21 level and at the age of 21 already, appears unlikely to appear for the senior squad at right-back.

Craig Dawson – England’s match-winner on the night with a well-taken penalty, Dawson’s chances of senior caps will undoubtedly have been helped by John Terry’s retirement. Enjoyed a place in the Olympics squad with Team GB but perhaps just lacks the pace needed to play at the top level.

Steven Caulker – A player surely destined for a future in the national team. Already a senior cap after making his debut against Italy in August, Caulker is being earmarked by some as Terry’s natural replacement. A near-certainty.

Danny Rose – Appears to be a favourite of Stuart Pearce but the converted midfielder will have difficulties getting ahead of Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines in the near future, with Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand waiting in reserve.

Jordan Henderson – A surprise member of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, Henderson was once deemed certain to make the step up only for a poor senior debut against France to be followed by disappointing form after his big money move from Sunderland to Liverpool. With the likes of Cleverley and Wilshere manning the midfield, Henderson will need to up his game considerably to have a chance of senior success.

Jack Rodwell – Was highly regarded by previous senior coach Fabio Capello, only for injuries to curtail his progress. A summer move to Manchester City should increase his chances of selection considering Hodgson’s apparent pre-disposition towards picking players from the bigger clubs, although his form at the Etihad has hardly merited international selection so far. Has time on his side though and should mature nicely to provide a nice foil for Cleverley and Wilshere in the future.

Thomas Ince – A year or so ago, Ince was on the footballing scrapheap after being released by Liverpool. However, a move to Blackpool under Ian Holloway has reignited the son of former England regular Paul’s career and has set the Championship alight this season with some sparkling displays. Could well come into contention if suggestions of a January move to Manchester United materialise but could find his path on the wing blocked by several outstanding young talents.

Wilfried Zaha – A player that has really stepped up to the mark this season with some virtuoso displays for Crystal Palace that has left many Championship defenders with twisted blood. Can play either as a wide man or up front and considering England’s lack of senior striking options at this moment in time, if Zaha were to continue his development then he could become impossible for Hodgson to ignore.

Marvin Sordell – A clear favourite of Pearce and has performed with distinction at Under-21 level, although he underwhelmed at the London Olympics and has only scored once in three appearances for a struggling Bolton side so far this season in the Championship. Is only 19 but just appears to lack the necessary quality to succeed at the top level and is an unlikely candidate for senior international honours unless Pearce was to get the job.

Raheem Sterling – Was rewarded for some electric displays so far in this breakthrough season for him at Liverpool with a place in the senior England squad for the September qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine. Looks to have the world at his feet at the moment with his combination of pace, trickery, dribbling ability and ice-cool composure for someone so young. Another who will be receiving the senior call sooner rather than later.

In sum, the future looks relatively promising for the Three Lions with six of the 11 above already either a part of the senior squad or firmly on Roy Hodgson’s radar. While of course the eventual number that make the break through is of course dependent on injuries and form, perhaps those who criticise the lack of young players coming through in the English game would be wise to temper their opinions just for now.

Adam Mazrani