Johnson's left to ponder

The left-hand side of England's midfield has recently been something of a poisoned chalice.

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The left-hand side of England's midfield has recently been something of a poisoned chalice. Paul Scholes became so disillusioned by Sven Goran Eriksson's decision to emasculate him out wide that he prematurely ended his international career while Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney both play on the left as if it is some kind of penance. There are doubts as to whether Stewart Downing is international class while Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon are both over reliant on their right foot.

The long-term solution to the problem position might just be Adam Johnson, Middlesbrough's beguiling winger who will showcase his skills down the left flank for Stuart Pearce's U21 side over what the young Lions hope is a successful two weeks in Sweden at the European Under 21 Championship, starting today with England's game against Finland. Johnson has been engulfed in a Premier League relegation struggle with his club all season, a battle that ended in gallant defeat, and he is relishing the chance to transfer his skills to a side who are one of the pre-tournament favourites and potentially put himself in the shop window.

"I heard somewhere that we might be favourites," said Johnson who has a year left to run on his contract at the Riverside. "We only conceded one goal in the qualifying campaign and that was a penalty. We had a really good campaign, but that means nothing - it's all on the day. We've got Spain and Germany in our group and Finland as well so that's three tough games. " While Johnson has been frustrated by his failure to usurp Downing in the team at Boro, Pearce - one of Fabio Capello's trusted lieutenants - is clearly a huge fan and has placed his faith in the 21-year-old winger during the qualifying campaign.

"He sits you down, tells you how he wants things done and he's been fantastic with me," said Johnson. "I have played some of the best games of my career for the U21s. I can't put my finger on why that is, but I always seem to perform well for them. I want to perform at the highest level and this is all good experience for me." England will be captained by the Manchester City centre-back Nedum Onuoha. The Nigeria-born defender has also been tipped to step up to Capello's senior ranks sooner rather than later, but knows how difficult it would be to become a senior regular.

England have an abundance of central defensive talent, the first-choice pairing being John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. "If you look at players in my position to watch, learn from, and admire, they are the pinnacle of it," Onuoha said. "You are not going to get into the team unless you are better than them or they give up their positions. So that's the target." Onuoha was part of the side who lost 13-12 on penalties to Holland in the semi-final two years ago after a 1-1 draw, and at 22 will be ineligible for the team after this tournament.

He added: This is my last chance to do something for the team. You never know if you'll ever make it to the seniors so this could be my last game in an England shirt and I want to make the most of it. "I'll do everything I can to help them win the tournament and I think we can." sports@thenational.ae