Greece qualified for their first UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals a year ago as elite round hosts in a pool involving the Republic of Ireland and it is a repeat for Group 3 from Wednesday, a strong Denmark team and hopeful Latvia lineup making up the section.
Greece warmed up with three home friendlies, winning 1-0 and drawing 2-2 against Norway but losing 1-0 to the Netherlands, and coach Thodoris Pachatouridis is keen to match the achievement of Leonidas Vokolos's side a year ago. "My players have worked very hard, in the friendlies they showed their potential and they are very determined," he said. Charis Mavrias – like goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino and defender Vassilis Karagounis a veteran of last season – is the only squad member with top-flight experience having represented Panathinaikos FC four times in the Super League. In facing FC Rubin Kazan on 20 October, he became the second-youngest player in UEFA Champions League history.
Qualifying round: Bulgaria 1-0, Israel 4-1, Croatia 0-0 (Group 1 winners)
Key players: Charis Mavrias (midfielder, Panathinaikos FC), Vassilis Karagounis (defender, Udinese Calcio), Rafail Soukias (midfielder, Olympiacos FC)
Latvia were one of two teams to progress from the qualifying round having finished third in their pool – and the others, the Czech Republic, made it to the finals last week. Following a busy friendly programme, coach Oļegs Blagonadeždins is content. "We have all the best players and I am happy with that," he said. "The only frustration is that key defender Karlis Plendiškis will miss the opening match against Greece after collecting too many yellow cards. I think Denmark are the clear favourites for the group and Greece can spring a surprise on home soil. Latvia are underdogs but we will try to put on a good performance."
Qualifying round: Netherlands 0-1, Ukraine 0-0, San Marino 2-0 (Group 11 third place)
Key players: Valērijs Šabala (striker, FC Skonto), Ēriks Punculs (midfielder, FC Liepājas Metalurgs), Karlis Plendišķis (defender, SV Werder Bremen).
Favourites or not, Denmark scored ten goals without reply in the qualifying round and showed some good form in La Manga in February, beating Belgium 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw and then overwhelming Norway 5-1 prior to a 1-0 loss to a physical Poland team. "I think we have had some really good preparations for the elite round in Greece," coach Thomas Frank said. "We have got some valuable experience in handling opponents who are well organised and physically strong, which is exactly what will be awaiting us in March."
Qualifying round: Wales 1-0, Belgium 2-0, Lithuania 7-0 (Group 8 winners)
Key players: Viktor Fischer (striker, FC Midtjylland), Lucas Andersen (midfielder, Aalborg BK), Frederik Holst (defender, Brøndby IF)
Republic of Ireland
Manager John Morling's plans suffered a blow when Aston Villa FC striker Mikey Drennan suffered a foot injury while on FA Youth Cup action for his club. Arsenal FC forward Philip Roberts is the replacement. "Mikey is devastated to miss out, it is a huge blow for us to be without him but he has a bright future," said Morling. Drennan had scored for Ireland in a 1-0 win in Italy in a friendly last month, reversing a similar defeat two days earlier. "I was extremely happy with the performance of the team against opposition with the quality of Italy but the challenges that await us in the form of Denmark, Greece and Latvia will be very different," Morling added.
Qualifying round: Malta 3-1, Albania 2-0, Norway 0-1 (Group 4 runners-up)
Key players: Paul George (midfielder, Celtic FC), James Murphy (striker, Reading FC), Joseph Coll (goalkeeper, Manchester United FC)
Reporters: Vassiliki Papantonopoulou, Mikhail Korolev, Aiden Fitzmaurice & Peter Bruun
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