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Chris Smalling gets ready for another big moment

last updated Wednesday 03rd March 2010, 2:18 PM
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
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Fulham and England Under-21s defender Chris Smalling is hoping he can build on a whirlwind season as the Three Lions prepare to face Greece in Doncaster this evening.

The Fulham man recently agreed to join Premier League giants Manchester United in the summer, 18 months after his arrival at Craven Cottage from non-League Maidstone.

He has also collected three caps for Stuart Pearce's men, and has started the last two games, including the 1-0 victory over Portugal at Wembley in November.

Having made his Fulham debut from the bench on the last day of last season his first start came against CSKA Moscow in September. Smalling's first appearance for the Under-21s arrived in Holland in August and after just nine games for the Cottagers he agreed to move to Old Trafford in the summer.

"At the minute things are going at such a fast rate, it's one thing after another," Smalling admitted. "It's all exciting at the minute, and came out of the blue. I was very much concentrating on Fulham, but it's a huge opportunity for me.

"When you have one of the biggest clubs in the world considering you it's just a massive compliment. Everything was done in January, now I can just focus on playing for Fulham.

"We started the season strong, we're still in two competitions, so hopefully we can finish well."

Next on his agenda, though, is Greece at the Keepmoat Stadium, where a win will put England in pole position in Group Nine with two games to go. And there's an added incentive for Smalling and his team-mates, after seeing a number of Under-21s make the step up into Fabio Capello's Senior set-up.

"That certainly drives everyone on," said the 20-year-old. "The competition's healthy in this squad and we all get on in training, so to see players step up gives us the boost to go out there and make the most of our opportunities."

And Smalling knows the importance of a result against the current group leaders this evening.

"I think when we went over there it was a very good game. We got the draw but hopefully here, at home, we can exert the early pressure and we can get that win to put us clear at the top of the group.

"This game will hopefully put us on the road to a major tournament and it's something we'll all want to be a part of next summer."

Smalling's progress into top-flight football and England recognition is a similar path previously trodden by his Under-21s Coach. Pearce was a player with non-League Wealdstone before he moved to Coventry City, then Nottingham Forest, on the way to 78 England caps.

But while he would love to follow in Pearce's footsteps, he has also drawn comparisons to another England defender, Rio Ferdinand, who he may soon be linking up with at Old Trafford, but the Greenwich-born defender was modest with the praise.

"My first Under-21s call-up was in August and he's always been there and has offered a helping hand," Smalling said of the Coach. "Where he came from he's proved that as long as you work hard and have the ability then you can go far in the game.

"When you're young and you see someone playing in the same position, you'll look at how they play. Rio has played so many games for Manchester United and England and is considered a world class player. But I'm a long way off being compared to him."

Source Jamie Bradbury at FA
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