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Youthful optimism faces tough test

Published: Tuesday 9 September 2003, 10.00CET
Hopes are on the line as the UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifiers reach conclusion.
Published: Tuesday 9 September 2003, 10.00CET

Youthful optimism faces tough test

Hopes are on the line as the UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifiers reach conclusion.

Another important round of matches in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship takes place tonight, when the qualification issues in the ten groups move a step nearer resolution.

Selection error
Sweden, whose 6-0 victory against San Marino on Friday was wiped out after they were found to have included two suspended players in their squad, face a must-win game away to Group 4 leaders Poland.

Hopes in the balance
A 3-0 victory was awarded to the Sammarinese instead and the three-point deduction leaves Sweden struggling to qualify with ten points from six games. The Scandinavians will be without Babis Stefanidis, who scored in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture. Second-placed Hungary, now two points above Sweden, travel to Latvia.

'Good chance'
Swedish captain Per Nilsson is undaunted. "We've got our minds set on a win," he said. "We've got a good chance but we have to play at our best. Poland are a very quick and skilful side."

All to play for
Group 8 is even tighter, with a single point separating leaders Croatia and third-placed Bulgaria, with Belgium sandwiched between the two. Second plays first in Mechelen, with Belgium coach Jean-François de Sart calling up midfield player Maarten Martens in place of Stein Huysegems, who has been promoted to the senior side. Defender Vincent Kompany and midfield player Marco Ingrao, meanwhile, have both withdrawn through injury.

Croatia confident
Croatia are in confident mood after a recent 3-0 victory against England and will be at full strength but for the withdrawal of Sandro Klic through injury. Coach Martin Novoselac sounded a note of caution, saying: "Whenever we play we want to win, but a draw would satisfy us as well. We still have one match in Croatia, against Bulgaria in October."

Selection dilemma
Group 3 leaders Czech Republic face the Netherlands in Liberec, but will be without Jan Polák after their captain picked up his second caution of the campaign in Friday's 1-0 defeat against second-placed Belarus, who are now level with the Czechs on 15 points. Coach Werner Licka has called up Pavel Fort in attack, which is also likely to be bolstered by the return of striker Tomás Jun after a knee injury, although goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka and defender Martin Hudec miss out. A win will guarantee the Czechs top place in the group.

Tricky trip
In Group 9, leaders Italy, who crushed Wales 8-1 on Friday, will be missing the suspended forward Giuseppe Sculli for their visit to Serbia and Montenegro, while Emiliano Moretti is set to replace the injured Mario Pisano in defence.

Tough test
Ukraine, in third place in Group 6 and away to leaders Spain, have a number of injury problems. "Ruslan Bidnenko, our key midfield player, is doubtful for the Spain game through injury," said coach Pavlo Yakovenko. "Our central defender Serhiy Puchkov is also out through suspension."

Win wanted
The Spanish have called up promising starlets Andrés Iniesta of FC Barcelona and David García of RCD Espanyol for the match on Tuesday. Spain coach Juan Santiesteban has picked Iniesta and García to bolster a side missing three key players - Fernando Torres, José Antonio Reyes and Xabi Alonso, all of whom are on duty with the full national squad. Spain require a win from either of their last two group matches to be assured a play-off place.

Last updated: 09/09/03 19.09CET

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