Just like last year, the two most frequent UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifiers Spain and England are matched in the elite round, though Group 3 hosts Georgia and a strong Ukraine team aim to leave both former winners out of the competition.
For only the second time since the late 1980s, the competition's dominant nation Spain failed to qualify last season after a last-day loss to England, who also beat them in the 2010 final. Santi Denia's side suffered a blow with news that FC Barcelona attacker Sandro Ramírez – the top scorer in qualifying with seven goals – will miss out through injury. Despite that setback, preparations have gone well for La Rojita who defeated Italy 5-1 in a friendly last January before earning a 1-0 win and a subsequent 0-0 draw away to Bulgaria. "The elite round is going to be very difficult with tough opponents and it is there that we'll really see if we are ready or not to compete at the finals next May," said midfielder Iván Calero.
Qualifying round: Montenegro 2-1, Malta 6-0, Poland 2-0 (Group 11 winners)
Key players: Rubén Blanco (goalkeeper, RC Celta de Vigo), Álvaro Bustos (midfielder, Real Sporting de Gijón), Alejandro Serrano (forward, Real Sporting de Gijón), Dani Iglesias (forward, RC Deportivo La Coruña)
Despite losing their title in the semi-finals against the Netherlands last year, England remain – along with Spain – the most consistent performers at this level and indeed defeated the Dutch in the qualifying round. They kept up their good form in the Algarve Tournament last month, winning 2-1 against both Portugal and France either side of a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands. John Peacock, aiming for an eighth qualification in ten years as coach, said: "[The Algarve Tournament] has been a huge positive for us, and there are still a few things for us to work on, but I said to the lads that they have given me a massive problem now in terms of selection." Defender Jordan Houghton, midfielder Diego Poyet and forward Devante Cole have all withdrawn injured.
Qualifying round: Latvia 4-0, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0, Netherlands 1-0 (Group 6 winners)
Key players: Chuka Akpom (forward, Arsenal FC), Callum Robinson (midfielder, Aston Villa FC), Jordan Graham (midfielder, Aston Villa FC)
Vasil Maisuradze's squad are yet to finish first in any tournament but they have never finished below second place. This happened in January in Minsk where they beat Belarus 4-3 and Belgium 4-2 before drawing 2-2 with Latvia, only to fall to Ukraine in the final. "We are going to face very strong opponents," said Maisuradze. "We already met Ukraine in the final in Belarus and lost 2-0. But this experience will definitely help us." They warmed up further by visiting Luxembourg and winning 6-0 and 1-0.
Qualifying round: Bulgaria 3-2, Moldova 2-1, Sweden 0-2 (Group 8 runners-up)
Key players: Nika Tchanturia (defender, FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi), Giorgi Papunashvili (midfielder, FC Dinamo Tbilisi), Nikoloz Akhvlediani (midfielder, FC Baia Zugdidi)
Olexandr Petrakov, in his first job as a nation coach, is hoping to lead Ukraine to their third finals in a decade. Before beating Georgia to win in Minsk, they had overcome Lithuania 2-1, Finland 5-0 and Russia 2-0 to keep up a good record in friendly tournaments, but last month were beaten 3-2 and 4-2 by Turkey. "In the winter our physical condition was not so good, but in Georgia we'll be better," Petrakov said. Right-back Vadym Shevchuk is doubtful with a knee injury.
Qualifying round: Belgium 2-0, Croatia 0-1, Azerbaijan 0-0 (Group 7 runners-up)
Key players: Bogdan Sarnavskiy (goalkeeper, FC Arsenal Kyiv), Ihor Kharatin (midfielder, FC Dynamo Kyiv), Artem Radchenko (midfielder, FC Metalist Kharkiv), Dmytro Bilonog (forward, FC Dynamo Kyiv)
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