Hosts Switzerland are tipped as the team to beat as they welcome the Czech Republic, Israel and Poland for UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round Group 5 from Friday.
Aleš Čvančara's side cruised through qualifying round Group 11 at home in September with three straight wins and eight unanswered goals, and began 2013 with victory at a tournament in Dubai. In comparison to the qualifying round, there are six changes in the team, with players unavailable then now fit.
"We are not going to change our playing style in spite of the importance of the upcoming matches," Čvančara told UEFA.com. "We would like to deploy the active, attacking game that helped us qualify. Each team may defeat any other in our group, it will be a very interesting tournament. I consider Switzerland slight favourites, and not just due to the fact they will be playing at home."
Qualifying round: Russia 3-0, Montenegro 2-0, Denmark 3-0 (Group 11 winners)
Key players: Jindřich Staněk (AC Sparta Praha), Václav Černý (1. FK Příbram), Patrick Schick (AC Sparta Praha)
Coach Heinz Moser is certainly as optimistic as Čvančara suggests he should be, saying they "deservedly" won 2-0 in their last friendly in Serbia at the end of February. Moser concluded that his side had "optimal" conditions in Serbia, "thanks to very good opponents" and "outstanding training conditions".
The 2002 winners – a victory fondly remembered in Switzerland – last qualified three years ago, a season after lifting the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. The European finals in Slovenia will lead to the global competition in the United Arab Emirates. They must win this group first, though, and Moser added: "We are now looking forward to the tournament in Switzerland and hope we will get lots of support."
Qualifying round: Faroe Islands 3-0, Cyprus 5-1, Austria 1-1 (Group 6 winners)
Key players: Nicolas Stettler (defender, FC Zürich), Eric Briner (midfielder, BSC Young Boys), Marco Trachsel (forward, Grasshopper-Club)
The last time Israel managed to qualify was in 2005, with the likes of Beram Kayal (Celtic FC) and Bibras Natcho (FC Rubin Kazan) in their squad. Coach Alon Hazan is aware his team are not the favourites but he likes it that way. "If you ask anyone they will say we have the smallest chance of finishing first," he said. "It's good for us because we are coming to play our own brand of football and hope good things can happen for us."
Qualifying round: Croatia 2-4, Turkey 4-2, Kazakhstan 6-2 (Group 12 runners-up)
Key players: Stav Nasikovski (midfielder, Beitar Nes Tubruk Netanya FC), Ron Nasikovski (forward, Beitar Nes Tubruk Netanya FC), Shon Weissman (forward, Maccabi Haifa FC)
Poland competed in the La Manga tournament in February, defeating Denmark 2-1 but losing 1-0 against Norway and Slovakia. "It was good to have the opportunity to play in this tournament, but on the other hand I would not draw too many conclusions from those matches," coach Robert Wójcik said. "First of all, at that time of year Polish players are never in top form and secondly, we were without some important attacking players."
His predecessor, Marcin Dorna, led Poland to the semi-finals last year in Slovenia and Wójcik mused: "Obviously it would be great to follow this path, but it is not going to to be easy. Although our elite round group is not a 'group of death', it is still a group where everybody can beat everybody. It will all be on the day."
Qualifying round: Bulgaria 2-1, Azerbaijan 1-0, Spain 0-1 (Group 4 runners-up)
Key players: Grzegorz Tomasiewicz (midfielder/forward, Legia Warszawa), Robert Bartczak (forward, Legia Warszawa) Karol Hallmann (defender, Hertha BSC Berlin), Paweł Bochniewicz (defender, Reggina Calcio)
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