Italy's UEFA European Under-17 Championship record of late has been disappointing – since finishing third as hosts six years ago they have qualified just once – but hosting Scotland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in elite round Group 1 from Wednesday, the Azzurrini hope for better. UEFA.com looks at the contenders.
After finishing last in the Valentin Granatkin Memorial tournament in Russia in January, the Azzurrini had the chance to test the pitches that will host the elite round in Casarano and Nardo when they played two friendlies against the Republic of Ireland on 8 and 10 February. Pasquale Salerno's side won the first 1-0 with a goal by Andrea Padovan and lost the second by the same scoreline after missing a late penalty. "I liked the approach in the first game because we were aggressive and always first to the ball," said Salerno, who led Italy to the 2009 semi-finals. "We were a bit tired in the second game and I think we have to improve physically because sometimes we struggle against most powerful opponents." The squad's captain, midfield schemer Simone Pasa, is injured.
Qualifying round: Cyprus 1-0, Slovenia 3-2, France 2-1 (Group 9 winners)
Key players: Mattia Maggio (forward, VfB Stuttgart), Valerio Verre (midfielder, AS Roma), Aaron Akrapovic (defender, Reggina Calcio)
It has not been the easiest of seasons for Ross Mathie's squad with preparations disrupted and matches cancelled due to a combination of volcanic ash, airline strikes and bad weather. But they are unbeaten in nine games, and since the elite round have defeated the United States 2-1 in Blackburn and Malta 2-0 and 1-0 in away friendlies. Mathie told UEFA.com: "We know it will be a very difficult group to qualify from as the quality of the other competing nations is very high and we will need to play at our very best. We look forward to visiting Italy and hopefully our players will show the same level of commitment and performance that got the team through our qualifying round matches in Luxembourg."
Qualifying round: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1-0, Luxembourg 2-1, Switzerland 0-0 (Group 12 runners-up)
Key players: Islam Feruz (forward, Celtic FC), Jack Grimmer (defender, Aberdeen FC), Joseph Chalmers (defender, Celtic FC)
The 4-2 qualifying round victory over Iceland that ultimately took Josef Csaplár‘s side through as one of the two best third-placed teams is their only win in seven fixtures this season, yet the coach believes his charges are improving. Last month they lost 2-1 away to final-tournament hosts Serbia, a performance hailed by Csaplár as the best of the campaign, regretting only the cancellation of a second game due to snow. However, individual defensive errors worried the coach, both in the Serbia match and the heavy qualifying round loss to Turkey. Furthermore, he warned: "Home advantage could make the difference for Italy."
Qualifying round: Iceland 4-2, Armenia 1-1, Turkey 1-6 (Group 7, third place)
Key players: Lukáš Stratil (midfielder, FC Baník Ostrava), Robert Hrubý (midfielder, SK Slavia Praha), Michael Lüftner (FK Teplice)
Keeping alive their hopes of a first U17 finals appearance until their final fixture against Italy on Monday is the aim for Anton Valovič's side. Since their fine qualifying round showing in Hungary they added another tournament first place in Michalovce late in February, beating host club MFK Michalovce U19s 2-0 and FK Ekranas U19s 1-0 while losing 2-1 to Legia Warszawa U19s. "We needed to play some games because our domestic competition only starts on 13 March," Valovič said. "It's a small handicap for us." Tipping Italy to prevail, he explained: "They beat France, they will be playing at home and have solid players. But we are ready to fight."
Qualifying round: Faroe Islands 3-0, Andorra 5-0, Hungary 1-1 (Group 10 winners)
Key players: Miroslav Bréda (goalkeeper, MFK Michalovce), Albert Rusnák Jr (midfielder, Manchester City FC), Šimon Šmehýl (forward, FC Nitra)
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