Few teams have the UEFA European Under-17 Championship pedigree of three-time winners Germany, who last year finished as runners-up to the Netherlands for the second successive finals. Coach Stefan Böger will be keen to return his team to winning ways this year but must negotiate a somewhat recondite set of opponents in elite round Group 4, including Ukraine and Bulgaria (eight finals appearances between them) and round debutants Estonia.
Qualifying round Group 2 asked few questions of Germany, but friendly victories since against England (2-1) and the Netherlands (3-1) prove the quality at coach Stefan Böger's disposal. A 4-1 defeat of Georgia on 6 March left Böger purring: "I am highly pleased. It's not that easy to score four goals. We have lots of quality."
Donis Avdijaj, one of Böger's key attackers, concurred, explaining the side's ambitions: "We intend to do a lot with this team. Our big goal is to win our [elite round] group now and qualify for the finals. Having the chance to play a European Championship and join Europe's best is real motivation. As a team, we have improved incredibly over past months – step by step. We get along well off of the pitch, too."
Qualifying round: San Marino 5-0, Andorra 10-1, Finland 8-1 (Group 2 winners)
Key players: Jonathan Tah (defender, Hamburger SV), Donis Avdijaj (midfielder, FC Schalke 04), Maurice Multhaup (midfielder, FC Schalke 04), Timo Werner (forward, VfB Stuttgart)
Ukraine are showing their commitment to reaching the U17 finals for the first time since 2007. In January, they featured in the annual Minsk tournament, beating Moldova 6-0, Latvia 3-1, and Belarus 2-0 and slipping to a 1-0 defeat by Russia.
Olexandr Holovko's men continued their intensive preparation with a five-day training camp in Turkey in late February. "I am satisfied with the work we have done," said Golovko. "The squad that will play in the qualifying campaign is 80-90% formed. We have a clear goal and we will be counting on tried and tested lads.
Qualifying round: Georgia 3-1, Scotland 0-0, Luxemburg 6-0 (Group 13 winners)
Key players: Vadym Soldatenko (goalkeeper, FC Dynamo Kyiv), Pavlo Lukyanchuk (defender, FC Dynamo Kyiv), Viktor Kovalenko (midfielder, FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Denys Arendaruk (midfielder, FC Shakhtar Donetsk)
Bulgaria have not made it to the finals since it was an U16 event in the early 90s. With three players returning from last year's elite round campaign, however, coach Metodi Deyanov crucially has experience anchoring a squad of real potential – one which saw off Spain in the qualifying round. The young tactician, a former CSKA Sofia midfielder, is happy with preparations and feels the team is confident for the trip to Germany.
"We've played several friendlies and the 2-0 win in Romania was the best performance for me," said Deyanov. "There are no easy opponents in the elite round. A vital aspect of such tournaments is the mentality and the psychological attitude, and every game will be very difficult, but we all believe we will do well and we dream of going further."
Qualifying round: Poland 1-2, Spain 1-0, Azerbaijan 4-1 (Group 4 winners)
Key players: Antonio Vutov (midfielder, PFC Levski Sofia 1914), Kiril Despodov (forward, PFC Litex Lovech), Miki Orachev (defender, PFC Levski Sofia 1914)
The squad is currently on a high after becoming the first Estonian team to reach this stage at U17 level. They did so in dramatic fashion. Needing to beat Wales in their final Group 7 fixture, Lars Hopp's team were 1-0 down before heavy snowfall forced the match to be abandoned. The game resumed a few weeks later, and Estonia scored three without reply to go through as one of the two best third-placed teams.
"I shared my doubts about progression last autumn, but we were able to do it," said Hopp. "The same goes for the elite round, although our chances are even smaller now. I'll ask my players to show their best; we're not going to Germany to lose. At the same time I won't be too upset if we don't book a finals berth."
Qualifying round: England 0-2, Northern Ireland 1-1, Wales 3-1 (Group 7 third place)
Key players: Frank Liivak (forward, Almere City FC), Svjatoslav Jakovlev (forward, FC Zenit St Petersburg), Rauno Sappinen (midfielder, FC Flora Tallinn)
Reporters: Steffen Potter, Konstantin Patkevich, Stoyan Georgiev & Mikhail Malkin
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