In a tough-looking UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round Group 1, hosts France are aiming to reach a sixth straight final tournament but Sweden, Italy and fellow former winners Switzerland have hopes of stopping them.
Jean-Claude Giuntini stepped up with this squad from the U16s with no survivors from the team that made last year's FIFA U-17 World Cup quarter-finals. After an unbeaten start to the season, including three qualifying round wins, France lost two games at the February Algarve tournament, 1-0 to the Netherlands and 2-1 to England, either side of a 2-0 defeat of Portugal. "I think we have the team to go through, especially at home, and we can do it in style," said Le Havre AC defender Brian Landini. "We have had good preparations for this tournament."
Qualifying round: Faroe Islands 5-0, Luxembourg 2-0, Northern Ireland 4-0 (Group 10 winners)
Key players: Mike Maignan (goalkeeper, Paris Saint-Germain FC), Jean-Charles Castelletto (defender, AJ Auxerre), Mohammed Chemlal (midfielder, SM Caen), Anthony Martial (forward, Olympique Lyonnais)
Sweden have never qualified for the U17 finals but – like France – got through without conceding a goal, so hopes are high. They also won the La Manga tournament in February, defeating the Czech Republic 2-0 and Norway 3-2 before drawing 2-2 with Slovakia. The coach expects a tougher challenge in France. "It will be one or two steps up from the ones we played at La Manga," said Magnus Vikman. "France in particular are incredibly good, but we're well enough prepared." Midfielder Jesper Karlström and forward Admir Bajrovic were uncapped before La Manga but are in the elite round squad.
Qualifying round: Moldova 3-0, Bulgaria 0-0, Georgia 2-0 (Group 8 winners)
Key players: Kristoffer Olsson (midfielder, Arsenal FC), Christian Kouakou (forward, AIK Solna), Muamer Tankovic (forward, Fulham FC)
The Azzurrini made it despite losing 4-1 against Denmark in their opening game of the qualifying round, Thomas Pedrabissi scoring three goals in the subsequent victories against Cyprus and Austria. Daniele Zoratto's team, however, have plenty of work to do after friendly defeats by Spain (5-1) and Germany (1-0 and 5-0). "Germany and Spain are among the best in the world at this level," the former midfielder said. "We can improve only by facing this kind of opponent. Our group is very difficult and I think France are more or less on the same level as Spain and Germany. Unfortunately we are not but we will give it a try."
Qualifying round: Denmark 1-4, Cyprus 3-0, Austria 3-2 (Group 5 runners-up)
Key players: Lorenzo Paramatti (defender, FC Internazionale Milano), Bryan Christante (midfielder, AC Milan), Thomas Pedrabissi (forward, FC Internazionale Milano), Jonathan Ferrante (forward, AS Roma)
Switzerland have a proud record at this level: winners in 2002, semi-finalists in 2009 – when they then became world champions – and qualifiers in 2005, 2008 and 2010. Dany Ryser, whose last U17 squad were the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup winners – was delighted with his team's mental strength in bouncing back from a loss to Israel in the qualifying round. "Despite being down because of the defeat against Israel, we were back to full focus in the last match," he said. "A huge compliment to the players."
Qualifying round: Iceland 5-1, Israel 2-3, Greece 0-0 (Group 13 runners-up)
Key players: Marvin Graf (midfielder, FC Zürich), Shpetim Sulejmani (forward, FC Basel 1893), Shani Tarashaj (forward, Grasshopper Club)
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