The Czech Republic look in good shape for UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round Group 2, which takes place in Luxembourg from Saturday, but the hosts, Belarus and Poland have prepared hard.
Having qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time last year via the European finals in Serbia, the 2006 runners-up are aiming to make the continental event again. Josef Csaplár's side secured maximum points in the qualifying round without conceding; Dominik Mašek, the only survivor from last season's squad, scored five of their nine their goals. They then took second spot in the La Manga tournament, losing 2-0 to Sweden and beating Slovakia 2-1 and Norway 3-1. "We played the best football since I began to work with the side two years ago," said Csaplár.
Qualifying round: Kazakhstan 2-0, Liechtenstein 6-0, Republic of Ireland 1-0 (Group 4 winners)
Key players: Stefan Simič (defender, Genoa CFC), Dominik Mašek (midfielder, Hamburger SV), Tomáš Chorý (forward, SK Sigma Olomouc)
Belarus staged a tournament in Minsk in January and came sixth, beating Latvia but then losing 4-3 to Georgia, 1-0 to Belgium and Lithuania 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Belarus have also beaten FC Basel 1893 U18s 2-0 but lost 4-0 to German side FC Ingolstadt U20s. Coach Mikhail Markhel said: "We are able to produce more but our efficiency in attack is not good enough. In general, I am happy with how we attack but I cannot say the same about our defence."
Qualifying round: Hungary 1-4, Norway 3-0, Andorra 5-0 (Group 1 runners-up)
Key players: Matvei Frantskevich (goalkeeper, FC RGUOR), Nikita Korzun (midfielder, FC Dinamo Minsk), Gleb Rassadkin (forward, FC Dinamo Minsk)
Poland won the 1993 UEFA European Under-16 Championship and were runners-up six years later but have not qualified for the U17 finals since 2002. "It would be great to achieve similar results, but to be frank, our priority is not to win at any price, but to prepare players for a future in senior football," coach Marcin Dorna told UEFA.com. This year they have played just once, beating an English Schools' Football Association team 2-0 away from home. Dorna added: "We had good training camps, worked a lot and are ready for the elite round. We face strong teams, as all of them had to beat two other teams to be there, but we remain optimistic."
Qualifying round: Malta 3-0, Montenegro 2-0, Spain 0-2 (Group 11 runners-up)
Key players: Gracjan Horoszkiewicz (defender, Hertha BSC Berlin), Aleksander Jagiello (winger, Legia Warszawa), Mariusz Stepinski (striker, Widzew Lódz)
A win against Northern Ireland then equaliser deep into added time against the Faroe Islands took Luxembourg through and they will also stage this mini-tournament dreaming of gracing the finals as they did in 2006 as hosts. "Nobody had expected us to qualify," said coach Reinhold Breu. "I have told the boys to enjoy it, to take the experience out of the three games. There shouldn't be any pressure." To prepare, Luxembourg have been busy with friendlies losing 4-0 at CS Sedan U17s, beating TuS Koblenz U17s 2-1, going down 4-3 at home to RS Magny U17s, holding R. Standard de Liège U17s 1-1, drawing 0-0 against Belgium and suffering 6-0 and 1-0 defeats by Georgia.
Qualifying round: Northern Ireland 1-0, France 0-2, Faroe Islands 1-1 (Group 10 runners-up)
Key players: Aristote Kitenge (defender, CS Fola Esch), Gérard Mersch (forward, AS Wincrange), Magnus Clemmensen (midfield, Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Dwayn Holter (midfield, SpVgg Greuther Fürth), Luca Ivesic (goalkeeper, FC Metz)
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