A Norway team that "refuse to lose" are among the opponents for the Netherlands as they continue their bid for a third straight UEFA European Under-17 Championship title by hosting elite round Group 7 from Thursday.
Coach Bård Flovik has looked on in amazement while his boys have racked up one great result after another. His team are 18 games unbeaten and can dream of a first U17 qualification. "I have a group of players that simply refuse to lose," he said. "They are a team of winners, but the elite round will not be easy. We can only take one game at a time." Norway won all of their matches in the qualifying round, the highlight being a 1-0 victory against Portugal. One of Norway's key players is FC Salzburg forward Zymer Bytyqi, who already has senior league football in Norway under his belt.
Qualifying round: Malta 2-1, Iceland 2-0, Portugal 1-0 (Group 9 winners)
Key players: Zymer Bytyqi (forward, FC Salzburg), Iver Fossum (midfielder, Strømsgodset IF), Ulrik Jenssen (defender, Olympique Lyonnais)
Netherlands (hosts, holders)
The Netherlands warmed up for their hat-trick bid at the Algarve tournament in February, drawing 1-1 with Portugal, losing 3-1 to Germany and beating England 1-0 before a 3-1 home friendly win against Finland on 6 March. Coach Albert Stuivenberg has overseen huge success since his 2006 appointment and said: "In the past six years we have qualified five times, been in three finals and won two European titles. That is not a coincidence. It means that with our way of working the chances of qualifying for the final tournament are big.
"So we are well prepared, but what will the result be now? You also have to take our opponents into account. How good will the Northern Irish, Italians and Norwegians be on the matchday itself? And how good will we be as a team?"
The one eligible veteran of last year's triumph in Slovenia, Riechedly Bazoer, is unavailable, so Damian van Bruggen is the new captain.
Qualifying round: Latvia 2-1, Lithuania 0-0, Belgium 2-1 (Group 3 winners)
Key players: Dabney Souza (forward, AZ Alkmaar), Damian van Bruggen (defender, AFC Ajax), Rewan Amin (midfielder, RJO Heerenveen/Emmen)
After winning the first edition of what was then the U16 Championship at home in 1982, Italy have made two semi-finals. However, since the last of those in 2009 they have failed to qualify. Daniele Zoratto's team suffered 1-0 friendly defeats by Greece and Spain after qualifying for the elite round before drawing twice against Turkey in mid-February. "The friendly games in Istanbul were very useful in evaluating the condition of the team ahead of the elite round," the coach said. "We did well, but we still have to improve in some other aspects of the game."
Qualifying round: Albania 1-0, Liechtenstein 4-0, Hungary 2-3 (Group 8 runners-up)
Key players: Elio Capradossi (defender, AS Roma), Alberto Cerri (forward, Parma FC), Gennaro Tutino (winger/forward, SSC Napoli)
Former Northern Ireland midfielder Stephen Robinson is aiming to lead his nation to the finals at his first attempt as coach. Robinson, capped seven times between 1997 and 2007, was only appointed in October, but got through a competitive qualifying round group. "It was a tough pool, but the team ethic in qualifying was superb," said Robinson. "It was a big stage, but the players rose to the challenge." Sheffield United FC's Jamie McDonagh, who is included in the Northern Irish squad, scored four of his team's seven goals in the qualifying round.
Qualifying round: Wales 4-0, Estonia 1-1, England 2-3 (Group 7 runners-up)
Key players: Liam Donnelly (defender, Fulham FC), Jamie Harney (defender, West Ham United FC), Jamie McDonagh (striker, Sheffield United FC)
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