Gael Bigirimana

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

At a time when some pundits are questioning the desire of young players in representing England, the attitude of Newcastle's Gael Bigirimana represents a refreshing change.

Stuart Pearce's under-21s crashed out of the European Under-21 Championships earlier this month with barely a whimper, losing all three of their group games and scoring only once to spark an inquest into the Young Lions' failings and cost the former Newcastle left-back his job.

But nobody can accuse Bigirimana - born in Burundi in Eastern Africa but a resident of England since he was ten years old - of not caring about his national team. He cancelled a holiday to Colorado when he was called up for Peter Taylor's squad for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, and is determined to show his gratitude for the way he and his family have been welcomed into the country since they arrived in 2004.

"England is my home now," he told ahead of England's first game of the tournament, against Iraq on Sunday. "I've lived here more than I've lived in my country - eight years now, coming up to nine years, so it's growing in me.

"I've seen how many people strive to play for England and wear the kit, so it's an honour and a privilege for me to wear it and I'll give everything back to represent England.

"England has been magnificent for me and for my family. The people have welcomed us, given us a place to live, and you can't ask for anything more than that.

"So I'll give everything I can to say thanks and to represent the country in a great manner."

An under-20 tournament it may be, but the competition offers a real flavour of the senior World Cup finals. Bigirimana and his team have spent more than a week in Turkey and warmed up with a 3-0 practice match win over Uruguay.

The Magpies man started that game and set up a goal, and has been given the squad number two ahead of the Iraq game. England face Chile on Wednesday and Egypt on Saturday, 29th July and Bigirimana can't wait to get started.

"It'll be a great experience and I thank God for the opportunity," he said. "So many talented kids play in England, especially at my age, but I've had a great season and put myself in a strong position. I just leave everything to God and he thought it would be good for me to be in the squad.

"You might think it would be an easy group but it's tough. Every team that qualifies for the World Cup, they didn't do it by luck or by chance - they go there because they deserve it. They've been the best teams in their groups on the continent, so it should be good."

Click here to buy a new Newcastle United change kit with Bigirimana's name and number on the back