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England U17s have tough road ahead

England
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Maradona's 'moral' Hand of God

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Kane has earned his England call-up but the U21s will need him at Euros

A nation's hopes and dreams sit upon his young shoulders, but you would not know it to look at him. He stands proud, his training bib rippling in the wind, his mouth hanging slightly ajar. Once he simply belonged to Tottenham Hotspur. Now a nation calls him one of their own. And, for once, the hype was justified. It took Harry Kane a matter of seconds to open his account for England on Friday night in a 4-0 win over Lithuania. But regardless of that goal, his move to the senior side should only be temporary. He must return to the U21 team for the European Championships this summer.

Kane has had a magnificent season, impressing observers with his attitude as much as with his footwork. The goals have flowed freely -- 28 in 42 games in all competitions -- but it's his work rate that has won him the admiration of even rival supporters. He plays as if he's a supporter who has won a prize; he visibly feels every victory and every defeat. Football is cynical and mean, but Kane is a throwback to a time when you didn't always feel let down by your heroes. When you didn't feel compelled to defend them on social media in the face of overwhelming evidence of ratbaggery. And long may it continue.

But while he deserves his chance with the senior side, there is work to do elsewhere. England approach the U21 European championship with something that hasn't been in their armoury for some time. They approach it with hope. Gareth Southgate's side have won plaudits for the style of football they employ. They press high, they use the ball smartly, they do all of the things expected of the senior side. They may not prevail in the Czech Republic, but they've certainly got more chance than some of their predecessors.

Harry Kane is set to make his debut with England's senior side, but his talents would be a huge asset at this summer's U21 European championship.

England were annihilated at the 2013 tournament, beaten by Italy, Norway and Israel and finishing without a single point. Manager Stuart Pearce bemoaned his circumstances, complaining that no fewer than 17 players were unavailable for a variety of reasons. In the case of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck, it was because they had travelled with the senior side for a friendly in Brazil.

"If you bring your best players," he said, "you stand a chance of winning the tournament." England did not bring their best players.

Similar thinking dogged the class of 2011. Jack Wilshere was omitted from the squad over fears of burnout. England were eliminated in the group stage, failing to win a single game.

Other nations take the tournament seriously. In 2013, the Dutch side boasted Kevin Strootman, Bruno Martins Indi, Daley Blind and a total of 65 senior caps. And they didn't even win it.

The suggestion that serious involvement in this competition offers more than just short-term benefits is not simply anecdotal. Have a look at the German side in 2009, who beat England 4-0 in the final. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes were all starters in the 2014 World Cup final. Javi Martinez and Juan Mata were U21 winners with Spain in 2011 and members of the victorious senior squad in 2012. Their goalkeeper on that day, David De Gea, is now one of the best on the planet.

Germany won 2009's U21 European championship behind a core of Benedikt Howedes, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira.

There has been a tendency in English football to rush players through, throwing them into the senior side early and then keeping them there. But that thinking has changed over the past 18 months. There is a far stronger relationship between Roy Hodgson and Southgate than there was with Pearce. This summer, Southgate has been told that he has clearance to choose the players he wants.

Not all players will welcome the prospect. Tom Ince has already asked not to be considered, though given that he chose Hull City above Internazionale last summer and that his camp told AS Monaco that he was worth as much as James Rodriguez, it's probably best not to trust his judgement. Not all available players will be chosen either. It is believed that Southgate is averse to damaging morale by replacing the youngsters who secured qualification with players like Raheem Sterling, who have long since established themselves in the senior side.

There are managers who will resent this as well. Even Roberto Martinez, a man you might think would be passionate about youth development, has asked for Ross Barkley to be left alone this summer. You can understand why; there is so much football and there are so few opportunities to rest. Martinez has very little to gain from English success. That will be a tense negotiation.

But for players like Kane, players who were key to the qualification process, there should be no question of their availability. If England are serious about winning major trophies -- stop laughing at the back -- then they should start the habit early. Take the youth tournaments seriously, build a culture of success, immerse the talent in competitive football. Who knows; perhaps they might not trudge home with their heads hung low this time.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

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