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No room for error for Group 1 contenders

Published: Thursday 24 May 2012, 9.45CET
Last year's runners-up the Czech Republic are looking for a finals return but, having missed out in 2011, France and the Netherlands will have extra motivation this time round.
No room for error for Group 1 contenders
Finalists in 2011, the Czech Republic are looking to qualify again ©ČMFS
Published: Thursday 24 May 2012, 9.45CET

No room for error for Group 1 contenders

Last year's runners-up the Czech Republic are looking for a finals return but, having missed out in 2011, France and the Netherlands will have extra motivation this time round.

FRANCE
The 2010 champions came down to earth with a bump the following year, exiting in the elite round. Under new coach Pierre Mankowski Les Petits Bleus are aiming for better but need to improve on a return of one win in five friendlies, including a 3-0 defeat by Georgia. Top scorer Anthony Koura has been omitted from a squad including Paris Saint-Germain FC striker Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, who has two goals to his name. "[This squad] has many very good players," said Mankowski. "Some have been given top-flight debuts in Ligue 1 or the English Premier League. I'm thinking about Paul Pogba who appeared for Manchester [United FC] or Samuel Umtiti at Lyon. However, it's too early to predict their future."

Key players
Alphonse Aréola (goalkeeper, Paris Saint-Germain FC), Lucas Digne (defender, LOSC Lille Métropole), Samuel Umtiti (defender, Olympique Lyonnais), Paul Pogba (midfielder, Manchester United FC).

Qualifying round
Bye to elite round

NETHERLANDS
The Netherlands are looking to return to the finals after missing out on last year's edition in Romania. Despite having a strong core of players taken from the team which won the European U17 title in Serbia in 2011, the Dutch failed to top their qualifying round. "We came a goal short of group victory and that is a shame," said coach Wim van Zwam. "That is why we now face some tougher opponents, but that should not matter. We want to reach Estonia and then you must be able to beat everyone."

Key players
Kyle Ebecilio (defender, Arsenal FC), Karim Rekik (defender, Manchester City FC), Memphis Depay (forward, PSV Eindhoven), Anass Achahbar (forward, Feyenoord)

Qualifying round
Moldova 3-0, Finland 2-0, Croatia 0-0 (second in Group 11)

CZECH REPUBLIC
Having bounced back from losing their first game to Israel to win their qualifying round section, Jaroslav Hřebík's side have prepared for the elite round with a 2-1 friendly defeat in England in February and a goalless draw against Germany in Plzeň last month. "This is the main event for our team," Hřebík told UEFA.com. "Our group is extraordinarily tight, so we decided to play friendlies against England and Germany to be ready to face strong opponents of similar quality. We know now that we can match such strong sides, but to defeat them we need to perform at our maximum level and play well as a team, not only as individuals."

Key players
Lukáš Zima (goalkeeper, Genoa CFC), David Houska (midfielder, SK Sigma Olomouc), Filip Twardzik (defender, Celtic FC), Jan Sýkora (midfielder, AC Sparta Praha)

Qualifying round
Israel 1-2, Lithuania 1-0, Serbia 1-0 (first in Group 5)

NORWAY
Bidding to qualify for the first time since 2005, coach Trond Nordsteien says: "The elite round has been our main goal this year. We're looking forward to facing some of Europe's best teams." Norway warmed up with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine, captain Magnar Ødegård scoring with a late free-kick. They also held a training camp in February in Spain, beating Sweden 1-0, drawing 0-0 with Hungary and going down 1-0 to Portugal.

Key players
Magnar Ødegård (defender, Sarpsborg 08 FF), Jonas Svensson (midfielder, Rosenborg BK), Etzaz Hussain (midfielder, Fredrikstad FK), Elbasan Rashani (forward, Fredrikstad FK)

Qualifying round
Cyprus 3-3, Latvia 2-0, Iceland 2-2 (first in Group 4)

Last updated: 24/05/12 9.55CET

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