Noel Blake is fast becoming a regular presence at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship; the 2011/12 event will be his second finals in three seasons since taking over as England's head coach in autumn 2009. England reached the U19 showpiece in 2005 and 2009 – with Blake part of their coaching staff at the latter tournament in Ukraine – but have not lifted the trophy since 1993 yet, with ten of Blake's squad having tasted U17 success in 2010, they could well be in contention again this time round.
TheFA.com: What are your ambitions for the final tournament?
Noel Blake: Our first target at the start of the season was to qualify for the finals, which we managed to do in May through a very tough elite round group. Our next target is to make sure we qualify for the next round of the finals and the [2013 FIFA] U-20 World Cup, which we can do by finishing at least third in the group. If we manage to do that we can re-assess our next target, but we go there knowing that we will face three very hard games in the group.
TheFA.com: How have your preparations been?
Blake: This week has gone very well. We had a couple of knocks earlier in the week, but they've recovered and the lads have looked bright and sharp.
TheFA.com: You came through a tough elite round group to get to Estonia, seeing off Slovenia, Montenegro and Switzerland – that must give you a lot of confidence?
Blake: We know we have to improve in our performances if we want to go on and really achieve what we set out to do. Our first objective this season was to get to the finals, which we've achieved. Now it's to qualify for the World Cup. And then, after that, we'll look at it and see if we can be the first nation to win at U17s and U19s with the same year group.
TheFA.com: You are in Group B alongside France, Croatia and Serbia – what do you expect from them?
Blake: To reach this stage of the competition means they are all very good teams, but, as I constantly tell people, there are no easy games at international level anymore, regardless of who you are playing.
TheFA.com: How do you see the tournament?
Blake: They're massive games. We played France earlier in the campaign in a tournament and I've seen both Croatia and Serbia, so know what they're all about. We know what we face, but I have confidence in our players and what we've got.
Most of this squad have been through the system since they were U16s, U17s, U18s and now at U19s. We have a few U18 boys in the squad who played at the [FIFA U-17] World Cup last summer after the European U17 Championship, so there is a lot of experience in the squad.
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