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'No easy games' in U19 Group B

Published: Monday 2 July 2012, 18.40CET
As they gathered ahead of Tuesday's Group B openers, the coaches of Serbia, Croatia and France agreed with England's Noel Blake, who said: "There are no easy games here."
by Paul Bryan
from Tallinn
'No easy games' in U19 Group B
The Group B coaches get a glimpse of the trophy ©Sportsfile
Published: Monday 2 July 2012, 18.40CET

'No easy games' in U19 Group B

As they gathered ahead of Tuesday's Group B openers, the coaches of Serbia, Croatia and France agreed with England's Noel Blake, who said: "There are no easy games here."

As they prepare their respective teams for the challenges that await in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Estonia, all four Group B coaches admitted nothing could be taken for granted from this point on.

Forcing home the point ahead of his team's return to the tournament after a one-year absence was England's Noel Blake, whose side open against 2010 semi-finalists Croatia in Kadriorg. "If there is anyone out there who thinks you just turn up here to play in easy matches they are plainly mistaken," said the former Portsmouth FC and Leeds United AFC defender.

"There are eight nations here including the hosts and all of the coaches who had to qualify their teams for the finals will tell you just how hard that process was. I am expecting tough encounters from here on in."

Without several players who have made the step up to the Under-21s, Blake still has ten members of the squad which won the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Championship squad at his disposal. He is hoping the experience of that success in Liechtenstein will help England, who were unbeaten in the elite round.

"The guys have good strength and the technical ability is also there," he said. "People say the English might not do certain things as well as other countries, but we are always striving to get better tactically. I have been pleased with how the group has been taking shape both tactically and physically up until now."

Croatia, meanwhile, also avoided defeat in the elite round and are in Estonia hoping to better that 2010 performance. "I hope my players play with the same ambition as Spain did in UEFA EURO 2012," coach Dinko Jeličić said ahead of their Group B opener. "Spain changed their tactics throughout the tournament but their principles remained the same and that's what I will try to teach my players."

Croatia's progress in 2010 was checked by France, who went on to win the title on home soil. After missing out on the finals in Romania last year, coach Pierre Mankowski has returned the two-time winners to Europe's top table.

"We hope to go as far as we possibly can here but the most important thing is the project which sees the players learning to live and improve together both on and off the field," he said. "This is a long competition so it's also important to have a good squad of 18 players so you can field a good team each time."

Despite admitting his side "are not favourites" to claim glory in Estonia, Serbia coach Zoran Marić said the goal was to "achieve a historical success for Serbian football by qualifying for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time."

Serbia reached the finals for the second successive time after topping an elite round section that contained Germany, Romania and Hungary. Their coach is an eyeing a repeat of 2009 and 2011, when they reached the last four on each occasion. "I think the differences between the sides here are not all that great and it could be the smaller teams who have the final say," he said.

Last updated: 02/07/12 20.36CET

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