Russia qualified ahead of fellow former UEFA European Under-17 Championship winners England and Portugal after a tight finish to elite round Group 6 in Burton Upon Trent.
Going into the final day, opponents Russia and Portugal had already ended the hopes of hosts England and Slovenia. Russia had a three-point advantage and although they lost 1-0 to Portugal, England's 2-1 victory against Slovenia meant Dmitri Khomukha's side finished top in a tie-break and go into next Thursday's draw for the May tournament in Slovakia.
Khomukha said: "At last Russian players will be represented on such a stage. This is a great experience for this generation of lads and it will definately help them on their way. What do I feel more at the moment: joy or fatigue? Too many events over a short period of time so of course I am exhausted. But there is happiness too because we made it.
"All the lads did extremely well. They withstood the burden of responsibility despite it being their first experience at such a high level, among the top European teams. One should not forget that we played away from home and I thanked our players for the will and courage they showed in the most difficult of times"
The opening day games were both played at the Football Association (FA)'s new St George's Park training centre due to inclement weather, and Russia overcame Slovenia 2-1 in the opener. Russia goalkeeper Anton Mitryushkin saved Nik Plavšić's 25th-minute penalty and soon after Danila Buranov punished Slovenia with his free-kick. Dmitri Barinov made it 2-0 before the break after controlling a long ball, and Marko Krivičič's consolation was too late.
England were reduced to ten men by Mason Bennett's sending-off against Portugal but Andrew Kiwomya's fine run and angled shot gave them a 1-0 win against a side that had beaten them twice in friendlies this season. Diminutive Aston Villa FC midfielder Dan Crowley stood out with his pace and technique.
Portugal bounced back at St George’s Park two days later, beating Slovenia 3-1 with substitute Márcio Martins and Ruben Macedo scoring in the last 24 minutes. That meant victory for England against Russia in Burton's main stadium would take them to the finals, and Crowley again shone early on along with team-mate Temitayo Aina, as Aleksandr Makarov's own goal gave the hosts a six-minute lead.
But two stunning Russia strikes turned the match on its head. Ayaz Guliev crashed in a sublime right-footed volley on 32 minutes after the ball had rebounded out to him from a crowd of players fighting for Buranov's inswinging corner. And after the break Ramil Sheydaev, from nowhere, fired in a fierce, dipping long-range angled shot, and Russia comfortably saw out the game, ending the hopes of England and Slovenia.
Portugal, though, could still qualify by beating Russia, but if it was only by one goal they needed England to fail to win against Slovenia. A brilliant curling 60th-minute Rui Moreira free-kick gave Portugal their win, Ramil Sheydaev and João Lima sent off at the end.
But England's success courtesy of goals from Charlie Colkett and Bryn Morris, despite Crowley's subsequent red card, was good news for Russia. They and England were joint top in a three-way head-to-head with Portugal on goals scored, but Russia then came first thanks to their victory against the host nation.
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