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Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Croatia matched

Published: Thursday 2 May 2013, 11.41CET
Former winners Russia kick off Group B against Ukraine on Sunday, with past semi-finalists Italy and Croatia making up a tough pool. UEFA.com profiles and hears from the rivals.
Published: Thursday 2 May 2013, 11.41CET

Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Croatia matched

Former winners Russia kick off Group B against Ukraine on Sunday, with past semi-finalists Italy and Croatia making up a tough pool. UEFA.com profiles and hears from the rivals.

Former UEFA European Under-17 Championship winners Russia kick off Group B on Sunday against neighbours Ukraine with past semi-finalists Italy and Croatia making up a tough section in Zlate Moravce and Nitra.

UEFA.com profiles the Group B contenders – you can hear their thoughts by clicking on the video player above.

GROUP SCHEDULE

Croatia
With victories against final tournament regulars France and Spain in the elite round of qualifying, Croatia have already marked themselves out as a team to watch in Slovakia. They are making their first finals appearance since 2005, when Ivan Gudelj led them to the semi-finals, losing the third-place play-off for a FIFA U-17 World Cup slot to hosts Italy. The side have been described as the best generation the country has produced so far. The midfield is where they are strongest, with GNK Dinamo Zagreb's Alen Halilović catching the eye after becoming the youngest debutant and scorer in Croatian top-flight history. "I believe Croatia can battle for the European Championship title," Gudelj said.

Qualifying round: Israel 4-2, Kazakhstan 2-0, Turkey 4-3 (Group 12 winners)

Elite round: Spain 3-2, France 1-0, Belgium 1-1 (Group 1 winners)

Key players
Alen Halilović (midfielder, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Josip Bašić (midfielder, HNK Hajduk Split), Fran Vojković (midfielder, HNK Hajduk Split), Fran Brodić (forward, GNK Dinamo Zagreb) 

Qualifying top scorer
Josip Bašić 4

UEFA European Under-17 Championship best
Fourth place: 2005

Italy
Winners of this tournament's first edition in 1982, when still a competition for U16 teams, Italy have reached the finals for the first time since 2009 by ending the reign of back-to-back champions the Netherlands in the elite round. Coach Daniele Zoratto can count on a secure goalkeeper in Simone Scuffet and imposing centre-backs like Giacomo Sciacca and Elio Capradossi, who helped the side keep five clean sheets in qualifying. Mario Pugliese is the leader of the midfield while winger Gennaro Tutino gives creativity to a team who feature captain Alberto Cerri as their main attacking threat. "We did well in qualifying from a difficult group but I am sure there is still a big margin for improvement," said Zoratto.

Qualifying round: Albania 1-0, Liechtenstein 4-0, Hungary 2-3 (Group 8 runners-up)

Elite round: Norway 1-0, Netherlands 1-0, Northern Ireland 0-0 (Group 7 winners)

Key players
Elio Capradossi (defender, AS Roma), Alberto Cerri (forward, Parma FC), Gennaro Tutino (winger/forward, SSC Napoli) 

Qualifying top scorer
Federico Bonazzoli, Alberto Cerri: 3

UEFA European Under-17 Championship best
Third place: 2005

Russia
Russia's only previous qualification was in 2006 when they went on to lift the trophy in Luxembourg by beating a strong Czech Republic side on penalties. That opponent inflicted a 3-0 defeat in the first game of this season's qualifying round, but Russia responded to progress to the elite round, before edging out two other former winners – England and Portugal, despite all three ending locked on six points – to seal their last-eight place. Their past elite round success seven years ago also came in England, a good omen for coach Dmitri Khomukha. "We will set ourselves the task of winning every game in the finals," said Khomukha. "Otherwise there is no point in us qualifying. One thing is sure – we will not be the whipping boys in Slovakia."

Qualifying round: Czech Republic 0-3, Denmark 2-1, Montenegro 3-0 (Group 11 runners-up)

Elite round: Slovenia 2-1, England 2-1, Portugal 0-1 (Group 6 winners)

Key players
Anton Mitryushkin (goalkeeper, FC Spartak Moskva), Nikita Chernov (defender, PFC CSKA Moskva), Danila Buranov (midfielder, FC Spartak Moskva)

Qualifying top scorer
Nikita Chernov, Ayaz Guliev, Ramil Sheydaev: 2

UEFA European Under-17 Championship best
Winners: 2006

Ukraine
With perhaps the most remarkable story of the elite round, Ukraine overcame a free-scoring Germany team playing on their own soil in their final match. Despite going down to ten men in the first period, Ukraine scored with three minutes remaining to clinch a finals place by a solitary point. With a strong FC Shakhtar Donetsk core to the squad, which has been together since August 2011, it was Andriy Boryachuk who stood out for Olexandr Holovko's side during qualifying, with his hat-trick against Estonia and late winner against the Germans making him the team's star performer.

Qualifying round: Georgia 3-1, Scotland 0-0, Luxembourg 6-0 (Group 13 winners)

Elite round: Estonia 5-1, Bulgaria 0-0, Germany 1-0 (Group 4 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), Andriy Boryachuk (forward, FC Shakhtar Donetsk)

Qualifying top scorer
Andriy Boryachuk: 5

UEFA European Under-17 Championship best
Group stage: 2002, 2004, 2007

Last updated: 03/05/13 0.36CET

http://www.uefa.com/under17/news/newsid=1946199.html#russia+ukraine+italy+croatia+matched

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