Poland ended their decade-long wait to qualify for the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals and coach Marcin Dorna said playing in Slovenia will be "priceless experience".
Dorna's side were confirmed as elite round Group 2 winners with a match to spare after beating the Czech Republic and Belarus 2-0. On Thursday they finished off by defeating mini-tournament hosts Luxembourg 3-1 and will be in the Ljubljana draw next Wednesday for the competition from 4 to 16 May, the first time they have made it since the last 16-team showpiece of 2002.
"We are extremely glad that we qualified for the Slovenia finals," Dorna told UEFA.com. "This is priceless experience – to take part in such a competition and play against the best European teams. The teams we played against in Luxembourg are very good, but we were better in some areas and that was decisive.
It is really fantastic that we secured our qualification after just two matches."
His team impressed throughout, with striker Mariusz Stępiński showing strength in holding the ball up, Adrian Cierpka providing the skill behind most of their attacks, Karol Linetty setting the tempo in midfield and Vincent Rabiega sprinting down the wings. It was Rabiega who set the ball rolling against the Czech Republic, tipped by many as group favourites, heading in Linetty's corner 35 minutes before Stępiński added a second early in the second half.
The same day, Luxembourg goalkeeper Luca Ivesic made a vital save from Belarus's Nikita Korzun before blocking a Nikita Kaplenko penalty and on 65 minutes Damien Steinmetz put the hosts ahead. However, they were already down to ten men following captain Aristote Kitenge's second yellow card and Kaplenko soon equalised following a Yaroslav Yarotski corner.
That opened up the opportunity for Poland to qualify early and three minutes in against Belarus Stępiński broke from midfield to strike first. Cierpka's volley soon after clinched another 2-0 victory. They knew they would be through if Luxembourg did not beat the Czech Republic and the hosts duly lost 2-1, Martin Matoušek breaking the deadlock for Josef Csaplár's dominant side late in the first half. Tomáš Chorý doubled the advantage two minutes from time before Dwayn Holter's consolation.
On the last day, Luxembourg – missing four players through suspension – took a shock lead against Poland through Frédéric Thill's well-placed 18th-minute shot. The pool winners hit back, though, defender Igor Łasicki equalising before half-time and Cierpka heading his side in front after the break. A superb Linetty effort finished the scoring to give Dorna's team maximum points. A goalless draw between Belarus and the Czech Republic meant the latter finished second in the section.
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