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Group 1 rivals ready for tough section

Published: Monday 23 May 2011, 10.00CET
Croatia and Portugal met in last season's finals, Belgium have qualified three times and Estonia will host the 2011/12 competition so all four have plenty of motivation as Group 1 kicks off.
Group 1 rivals ready for tough section
Portugal's Rúben Pinto celebrates scoring against Spain in the 2010 finals ©FPF
Published: Monday 23 May 2011, 10.00CET

Group 1 rivals ready for tough section

Croatia and Portugal met in last season's finals, Belgium have qualified three times and Estonia will host the 2011/12 competition so all four have plenty of motivation as Group 1 kicks off.

Three of the teams involved in UEFA European Under-19 Championship elite round Group 1 have had recent experience of the final tournament, Croatia and Portugal meeting in the 2009/10 group stage and the most recent of Belgium's three qualifications coming in 2006. With Estonia hosting the 2011/12 finals, all four sides will be out to impress.

Belgium followed an impressive qualifying-round showing with friendly victories over Germany, Belarus (twice) and Slovakia (twice), although they did lose to Ukraine before a surprise 2-1 reverse against Luxembourg on 17 May, when Marc van Geersom was without a number of regular players. "It's doable for us," said the coach. "We have proved to be competitive at this level. In the qualifying round we beat England and won all our matches. This group of players has a lot of talent."

Qualifying round: Cyprus 4-1, Albania 2-0, England 2-1 (first in Group 8)

Key players: Paul-José Mpoku (forward, Tottenham Hotspur FC), Thorgan Hazard (forward, LOSC Lille Métropole), Alessandro Cerigioni (forward, Lommel United), Florent Cuvelier (midfielder, Stoke City FC), Igor Vetokele (forward, KAA Gent)

Last season's semi-finalists are without the influential Nikša Petrović through injury, but coach Ivan Grnja has high hopes for Mislav Komorski and Frano Milnar, while Ivan Blažević has recently come to prominence. "It's always our goal to reach elite round," said Grnja, who took his team to the finals for the first time a year ago. "We want to reach the final tournament but the reality is probably different. We always have problems before the elite round and we're always so close to qualifying so we'll do our best again."

Qualifying round: Faroe Islands 2-2, Latvia 2-1, Italy 1-3 (second in Group 7)

Key players: Matej Delač (goalkeeper, Chelsea FC), Mislav Komorski (defender, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb), Frano Mlinar (midfielder, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb), Ivan Blažević (midfielder, NK Inter Zaprešić)

Next season's finals hosts are in the elite round for the second time in three years, although in 2008/09 they lost all three games, scoring one goal and conceding 13. They lost 1-0 to Ukraine in Kyiv in April, the drew 2-2 against Saudi Arabia before going down 2-0 against Italy. "I'm glad we're not a small football country any more," coach Fran Bernhardt told "In a few years I believe my guys will be able to take our national team to the European Championship."

Qualifying round: Norway 2-0, Scotland 1-2, Liechtenstein 3-0 (first in Group 2)

Key players: Aleksei Belov (forward, SC Verl), Joonas Tamm (forward, IFK Norrköping), Maksim Podholjuzin (defender, FC Levadia Tallinn), Karol Mets (midfielder, FC Flora Tallinn), Marko Meerits (goalkeeper, FC Flora Tallinn)

Portugal lost 5-0 to Croatia in last year's final tournament, yet Hélio Sousa's team are on a high after winning April's Porto International Tournament, following a 1-1 draw against Spain with victories over Russia (3-1) and France (1-0). "To win this tournament is a bonus; our goal is to win each game," said the coach, who also guided his team to a third successive triumph at the La Manga tournament in February.

Qualifying round: Azerbaijan 2-2, Georgia 3-0, Greece 1-1 (first in Group 3)

Key players: Rúben Pinto (midfielder, SL Benfica), Amorim (midfielder, FC Porto), Agostinho Cá (midfielder, Sporting Clube de Portugal), Bruma (forward, Sporting Clube de Portugal), Ricardo Esgaio (forward, Sporting Clube de Portugal)

Last updated: 30/01/12 18.42CET

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