Serbia's UEFA European Under-17 Championship campaign has already gained worldwide attention, but the Republic of Ireland, last season's semi-finalists Georgia and hosts Austria will all be bent on barring their progress when elite round Group 2 kicks off on Monday.
Pipped to the finals by eventual champions the Netherlands last year – despite not losing a game – Serbia have been busy with friendlies of late, losing 2-0 to Switzerland, drawing 1-1 in Scotland and beating Under-17 finals hosts Slovakia 2-1 in Belgium. They struck 16 unanswered goals in three qualifying round wins and became an internet hit with their triple-dummy corner routine to set up Andrija Živković against Moldova. Coach Milan Lešnjak said: "We have a problem because some players are out through injury. My expectation, however, is to achieve our goal and qualify."
Qualifying round: Armenia 5-0, Moldova 4-0, Belarus 7-0 (Group 1 winners)
Key players: Andrija Živković (midfielder, FK Partizan), Milan Gajić (midfielder, FC Zürich)
Republic of Ireland
Tom Mohan, 39, achieved success in his playing career and is hoping for more of the same in management as he leads Ireland in Austria. A 4-1 win against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the qualifying round was impressive, though Ireland did succumb 3-0 to Croatia in a friendly ahead of the elite round. "When you are playing three games in five days, you have to go for players who are versatile and cover a number of positions as injuries and suspensions kick in," said Mohan. "The recent matches against Croatia were a good benchmark for what we can expect here. The players know that in football every time you progress the challenge gets that little bit more difficult." Manchester City FC prospect Jack Byrne, a hat-trick hero against FYROM, is one of the key players, while Fulham FC's Dean O'Halloran also has an eye for goal.
Qualifying round: Sweden 1-1, FYROM 4-1, Romania 2-0 (Group 10 joint winners)
Key players: Dean O'Halloran (midfielder, Fulham FC), Jack Byrne (midfielder, Manchester City FC), Dan Cleary (defender, Liverpool FC)
Last season's surprise semi-finalists did not find things easy in the qualifying round and have had mixed results this year. At the Minsk tournament in January, they lost 3-2 to Belgium and 3-0 against Lithuania but beat hosts Belarus 2-0 and Moldova 4-2. Earlier this month, they went down 4-1 in Germany before holding Vitesse U21s 1-1 and defeating FC Dila Gori U21s 3-1. Ilia Kerdzevadze, who also played in 2011/12 qualifying, said: "We know we'll face strong opponents in the Republic of Ireland, Austria and especially Serbia. But we'll be prepared in the best possible way to fight for first place in the group."
Qualifying round: Ukraine 1-3, Luxembourg 3-1, Scotland 3-0 (Group 13 runners-up)
Key players: Oto Goshadze (goalkeeper, FC Saburtalo), Luka Zarandia (midfielder, FC Lokomotiv Tbilisi), Ilia Kerdzevadze (forward, FC Chikhura Sachkhere)
Coach Hermann Stadler is hoping home advantage could take his side through. "Winning this group is possible, although securing a passage to the finals will probably only be possible by getting one over on the favourites, Serbia," Stadler said. However, that task has been made more difficult by the absence of FC Salzburg midfielder Valentino Lazaro, who has fractured a metatarsal.
Qualifying round: Cyprus 0-0, Faroe Islands 6-0, Switzerland 1-1 (Group 6 runners-up)
Key players: Adrian Grbic (forward, VfB Stuttgart), Sascha Horvath (midfielder, FK Austria Wien), Tobias Pellegrini (forward, FAL Linz)
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