Group A of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship commences on Friday with a meeting of surprise qualifiers Georgia and last year's runners-up Germany, while 2004 winners France provide a daunting opponent for Iceland.
Georgia coach Vasil Maisuradze has guided his team to the finals against the odds, topping an elite round group containing two former winners of this tournament in Spain and England, an achievement that has instilled a deep sense of pride in the camp.
"For our little country it is a very big responsibility to be at this tournament," said Maisuradze. "Our team has worked hard this year and our participation here is the result of that."
However, the coach insists his team are not content merely to be at the party, with Georgian eyes fixed firmly on causing an upset against Germany on Friday. "We will do everything; we are ready to fight in every game and we want to prove we are proud members of the European Championship," he added. "Germany are one of the favourites so it will be difficult. But we are optimistic, and our optimism comes from our displays against Spain and England in the elite round."
It is a threat that Maisuradze's German counterpart, Stefan Böger, does not take lightly. Böger's side are riding the crest of a wave heading into this tournament, with the coach now unbeaten in 25 matches at the helm. "I expect a hard game because Georgia have a lot of quick, technical players, and they never give up," said Böger. "We will have to play well to get something from this game. All the teams have proven their quality in qualifying, so I don't think there will be any surprises or any favourites in this group."
France coach Jean-Claude Giuntini echoed those sentiments as Les Bleus prepared to take on Iceland. "Iceland will be a very difficult opponent, because they are a surprise," said Giuntini, whose team won all six of their qualifiers. "They are a good team who qualified ahead of Denmark, one of the top sides in Europe.
"We come up against three very good teams who have had excellent qualifying campaigns. But our players are very focused and happy to be here. The objective of the French team is to play good football and of course to win, but it will be very difficult."
Like Georgia, Iceland's presence – their first participation since 2007, when they finished bottom of their group – is something of a surprise. Coach Gunnar Gudmundsson is keen to play down his team's chances of survival in their difficult group, despite impressing en route to Slovenia.
"It is going to be tough for us to reach the next stage," he said. "We are not favourites, but the other three teams are very equal. Although results are important, I think this tournament is also about development – the players can take a lot out of a tournament like this. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
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