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Ambitious opponents meet in Sarajevo

Published: Thursday 18 March 2010, 17.36CET
Bosnia and Herzegovina will stage Group 2 in Sarajevo from Friday – with the hosts, Croatia, Romania and 2003 winners Portugal all having eyes on this summer's Liechtenstein finals.
by Fuad Krvavac, Elvir Islamović, Paul-Daniel Zaharia & Hugo Pietra
Ambitious opponents meet in Sarajevo
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Under-17s train in anticipation of the Sarajevo mini-tournament ©Fedja Krvavac
Published: Thursday 18 March 2010, 17.36CET

Ambitious opponents meet in Sarajevo

Bosnia and Herzegovina will stage Group 2 in Sarajevo from Friday – with the hosts, Croatia, Romania and 2003 winners Portugal all having eyes on this summer's Liechtenstein finals.

Just reaching this stage was an achievement for Velimir Stojnić's side, who got through with three draws in Wales. They have had no warm-up matches because their traditional preparation friendlies against Croatia became redundant once the two nations were due to face each other on Friday. Stojnić, who has forward Anid Travančić and defender Emir Imširević suspended for that first fixture, said: "Unfortunately, we haven't had the chance to play a game, but the players know each other very well and they will try to overcome this disadvantage. We play as hosts, which itself is a slight advantage. The favourites are Romania and Portugal."

Qualifying round: Russia 0-0, Wales 2-2, Iceland 1-1 (Group 12 runners-up)

Key players: Dino Bevap (defender, NK Zagreb), Sanjin Prcić (midfielder, FC Sochaux-Montbéliard), Marko Maletić (midfielder, FC Utrecht)

Croatia coach Ivan Gudelj wants to make sure their final game against Portugal on Wednesday will be decisive – and he has a fully fit and well-motivated squad to put his plan into action. "We have a chance of winning the group but it won't be easy," he said. "Portugal are traditionally very strong, they have excellent youth players, among the best in the world. But we have prepared well, have a good team and we hope to do something good. Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania also have good teams, but we are expecting our match against Portugal to decide first place."

Qualifying round: Montenegro 1-1, Denmark 2-1, Belgium 1-0 (Group 3 winners)

Key players: Marko Livaja (forward, HNK Hajduk Split), Karlo Težak (midfielder, NK Varteks), Danijel Ivančić (forward, NK Croatia Sesvete)

Despite qualifying with a game to spare on home territory in October, Romania coach Florin Cheran has continued to search for talent to bolster the ranks. "We have not qualified for a youth final tournament for many years and I have this ambition to qualify," he said. "It won't be easy. We play the first match against Portugal, the group favourites, and for us it's clear it will be a vital match. If we lose, our chances of qualifying will be zero. Therefore we cannot afford to lose and even a draw would give us a chance going into our last two group games." Cheran has a fully-fit squad although his planning has been hampered by the long hard winter in Romania. His team have played four friendlies, winning and losing against both Turkey and Moldova.

Key players: Bogdan Vătăjelu (midfielder, FC Steaua Bucureşti), Florentin Matei (midfielder, FC Steaua Bucureşti), Alin Petrea (midfielder, AS Roma)

Rui Bento's charges finished second in the Algarve tournament in February, drawing 0-0 with Ukraine and England either side of a 3-0 win against France. "That tournament had the format of a major championship and it was always going to be tough," Bento said. "England and France had really strong teams. Against France we got a great result but maybe we could have done better against Ukraine. Nevertheless we fulfilled our expectations. Now we have excellent prospects for the future. The players played with great intensity against difficult opponents. I believe we can do better and hopefully the players will be successful despite the areas we have to improve. There's always room for improvement."

Qualifying round: Georgia 2-0, Cyprus 2-1, Scotland 2-2 (Group 10 winners)

Key players: Tobias Figueiredo (defender, Sporting Clube de Portugal), João Mário (midfielder, Sporting Clube de Portugal), Ricardo Esgaio (forward, Sporting Clube de Portugal)

Last updated: 18/03/10 20.23CET