By Tony Leighton
The exciting career path of Derby County wonder kid Mason Bennett is set to continue on its upward curve when the highly promising youngster plays for England in this week's St Georges Park Under-17 International Tournament.
Sixteen-year-old striker Bennett, who became Derby's youngest ever first-team player when making his debut in an npower Championship game against Middlesbrough aged 15 years and 99 days, is in the England squad that will face Italy, Portugal and Turkey at the grounds of npower League 2 clubs Burton Albion and Northampton Town.
First up is a Wednesday evening game against Italy at Burton's Pirelli Stadium, just up the road from the FA's new St George's Park national centre at which the Under-17's are the first group to make use of the facilities that are to become the training headquarters for all of the England teams.
Looking ahead to the tournament, Bennett, who has 10 Under-17 caps having made his international debut just 18 days after his 15th birthday and having also played in the Under-16 Victory Shield tournament, said: "The squad has settled in very well to St George's Park and everyone has been looking on fire in training
"The facilities here are incredible - I believe that the pitch we've been training on is a replica of Wembley's. It's an honour to be part of the first England team to stay and train here. There's a good buzz around the group and the lads are raring to go.
"The players we have at this level are a very talented bunch. The tournament will be a step up from the Victory Shield with the teams being more technical, but I'm sure the boys will up their game and produce some good performances in our three matches."
Bennett is one of five of the England squad's players who are based at Football League clubs, the quintet being completed by Shrewsbury Town goalkeeper Callum Burton, Hull City defender Max Clark plus midfielders Reece Brown of Birmingham City and Bryn Morris of Middlesbrough.
Like all 18 of the squad, Bennett is aiming to make his way in international football on the back of good performances for his club team, and the local lad is certainly getting his chance with the Rams after quickly establishing himself in the first-team squad.
He has played in two first-team games in these opening weeks of the new season after making nine senior appearances last term. "It's been going great," he said. "To train with the first team on a regular basis has been an amazing experience, and I scored my first senior goal in a pre-season match so it couldn't have gone any better.
"But I'm still young and learning all the time, so I'll have to be patient to get my opportunity. I'm just hoping to continue to train with the first team and hopefully to play on a regular basis in the future."
Following Wednesday night's opening game England face Turkey at Northampton's Sixfields Stadium on Friday evening and then return to Burton on Sunday afternoon for their final fixture of the tournament.
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