UEFA European Under-17 Championship holders the Netherlands will have home advantage from Thursday as Serbia, the Republic of Ireland and Albania challenge them in elite round Group 5.
Albert Stuivenberg can call on three of the squad that triumphed in Serbia last May, defenders Nathan Ake and Thom Haye and playmaker Tonny Trindade de Vilhena, who struck twice in the 5-2 final defeat of Germany a year ago to end as joint top scorer. The Netherlands warmed up at the Algarve tournament, beating France 1-0, drawing 2-2 with England – who beat Stuivenberg's side in the qualifying round – and going down 2-0 to hosts Portugal, and then overcame Belgium 2-1 in a friendly. "I have seen positive things, although there are certain points to improve before we go into the elite round," Stuivenberg said. "Especially in defence and in the transition towards defending we still have some steps to take."
Qualifying round: Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0, Latvia 4-1, England 0-1 (Group 6 runners-up)
Key players: Nathan Ake (defender, Chelsea FC), Branco van den Boomen (midfielder, AFC Ajax), Tonny Trindade de Vilhena (midfielder, Feyenoord)
Having failed to get out of the group stage as finals hosts last year, Serbia impressed in the qualifying round and in defence include one of the veterans of the 2011 showpiece, Nemanja Jakšić. They drew a friendly 1-1 in Scotland last month, and coach Nenad Sakić said: "Although we are not favourites we hope to return with honour."
Qualifying round: Lithuania 2-0, Armenia 2-1, Wales 6-1 (Group 9 winners)
Key players: Nemanja Jakšić (defender, FK Crvena zvezda), Nikola Šakić (midfielder, FK Crvena Zvezda)
Republic of Ireland
Ireland manager John Morling knows his side are in for a tough test having faced opening opponents Serbia twice in September, losing 2-0 and drawing 1-1. Since progressing past the qualifying round they had a February training camp in the Algarve, winning two friendlies against local clubs. Morling said: "All three teams facing us in the group are strong but we'll concentrate on the opener against Serbia. We played Serbia in a double-header friendly last September and they, along with Czech Republic, are the best opposition we've come up against so far this season. Our training camp and two friendlies in the Algarve last month proved highly beneficial and we'll get some more important work done on the training pitch in the run-in to Thursday's first game."
Qualifying round: Liechtenstein 8-0, Kazakhstan 1-1, Czech Republic 0-1 (Group 4 runners-up)
Key players: Kyle Callan-McFadden (defender, Norwich City FC), Jack Grealish (midfielder, Aston Villa FC), Sam Byrne (forward, Manchester United FC)
Former Yugoslavian international Džemal Mustedanagić switched to the U17s after a spell in charge of the senior side following Josip Kuže's departure. He became the first foreign coach to lead them through, ending a nine-year wait to make the second stage. Their qualifying round run included a creditable 1-0 loss to Germany, meaning Albania will have met both 2011 finalists by the time the mini-tournament is over. Mustedanagić, whose side have been in training for two months and beat Bulgaria 2-0 in a recent friendly, following a 1-1 draw and 1-0 loss to Slovenia, said: "We have prepared well and we look forward to the challenge in front of us. It will be tough, but we will be ready." Berat Beqiri, Almedin Murati and Fabian Lokaj have all qualified for Albania and been included.
Qualifying round: Slovakia 2-1, Germany 0-1, Estonia 1-1 (Group 12 runners-up)
Key players: Aldo Teqja (goalkeeper, KS Dinamo Tirana), Frans Ymeralilaj (forward, Diagoras FC), Maldin Ymeraj (midfielder, Panathinaikos FC), Berat Beqiri (midfielder/forward, B93 København)
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