Germany have home advantage and a fine run of form behind them as they welcome fellow former UEFA European Under-17 Championship winners Turkey and Portugal, plus a promising Bulgaria side, for elite round Group 4 from Tuesday.
Last season's runners-up have won all 11 of their fixtures in 2011/12, including a 4-0 August friendly victory against Turkey, and in February they defeated Italy 1-0 and 5-0, following three qualifying round clean sheets. "You don't travel to Italy and score five goals just like that," said coach Stefan Böger. "The team has to understand that they all have to defend with passion and not allow opponents any chances. From this good defensive base you can then successfully launch your attacks. We will be hosts in the elite round. It will be a great experience for the players. We will have friends and family at the matches and we want to showcase our football for all fans as successfully as possible."
Qualifying round: Estonia 5-0, Albania 1-0, Slovakia 2-0 (Group 12 winners)
Key players: Pascal Itter (defender, 1. FC Nürnberg), Serge Gnabry (Arsenal FC, midfielder), Niklas Süle (defender, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim), Said Benkarit (striker, Borussia Dortmund)
Victors in 2003, Portugal have only qualified twice since. As usual, they hosted the Torneio Internacional do Algarve in February, losing to England and France but beating reigning European champions the Netherlands in their last game. "This tournament had the best European teams – only Germany, who we will face in the elite round, were missing," said Portugal coach Hélio Sousa "We faced the best here and I think we are prepared to compete for first place in the elite round. We need to improve so we are not so exposed in the opening minutes like we were in the first matches of the tournament."
Qualifying round: Russia 1-1, Finland 2-1, Romania 1-0 (Group 2 runners-up)
Key players: Ricardo Tavares (defender, Sporting Clube de Portugal), Tomás Podstawski (midfielder, FC Porto), Romário Baldé (forward, SL Benfica), André Silva (forward, FC Porto)
The 2005 champions missed out on qualifying for the first time in four seasons last term, finishing second in an elite round group hosted by Germany, who they lost 2-0 to in the opening game, a situation they hope to reverse on Tuesday in Bremen despite the 4-0 friendly loss in the summer. They have been busy since the qualifying round; in November they went to Belgium and lost 2-1 before winning 3-0, then last month they beat Azerbaijan 4-0 before a 0-0 draw, and then overcame Ukraine 3-2 and 4-2.
Qualifying round: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1-1, San Marino 2-0, Scotland 1-1 (Group 3 runners-up)
Key players: Atabey Çiçek (forward, Gençlerbirliği SK), Taylan Antalyalı (midfielder, Bucaspor)
Having not made it to this stage for ten years, Bulgaria were led through as one of the two-best third-placed sides by ambitious Aleksandar Dimitrov, 36, also the U21 assistant coach. His side have prepared hard, with friendlies against Spain (a 0-0 draw and a narrow 1-0 defeat), Albania (2-0 defeat) and Romania (2-0 win and 2-1 defeat). "I am happy with our preparations and the efforts of the players," said Dimitrov. "We have to work on our attacking and finishing. It is good that we are creating chances and we can be flexible tactically."
Qualifying round: Georgia 2-3, Sweden 0-0, Moldova 2-0 (Group 8 third place)
Key players: Nikola Kolev (midfielder, PFC Litex Lovech), Borislav Tsonev (midfielder, PFC Levski Sofia), Steven Petkob (PFC Levski Sofia)
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