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Portugal welcome Group 3 contenders

Published: Monday 3 June 2013, 9.41CET
Portugal is the venue for elite round Group 3, with the Czech Republic and Bulgaria both boasting recent finals experience and Denmark seeking a first qualification since 2001.
Portugal welcome Group 3 contenders
Bulgaria are bidding for a second finals appearance ©BFU
Published: Monday 3 June 2013, 9.41CET

Portugal welcome Group 3 contenders

Portugal is the venue for elite round Group 3, with the Czech Republic and Bulgaria both boasting recent finals experience and Denmark seeking a first qualification since 2001.

Thomas Frank's team are looking to qualify for the finals for the first time since 2001 and are boosted by the presence of FC Bayern München midfielder Pierre Emil Højbjerg, meaning the coach – who led much of this squad to the 2011 U17 semi-finals – can send his strongest team to the elite round. "Of course we approach the three matches with confidence and with the knowledge that it is possible for us to qualify," said Frank. "It may not take three wins, but we probably need at least seven points, so we'll have to win two matches. At first sight the Czech Republic and Portugal are our two strongest opponents."

Key players: Pierre Emil Højbjerg (midfielder, FC Bayern München), Christian Nørgaard (midfielder, Hamburger SV), Frederik Holst (defender, Brøndby IF), Kenneth Zohore (forward, ACF Fiorentina)

Qualifying round: Cyprus 3-1, Montenegro 3-2, Finland 3-0 (Group 2 winners)

Portugal reached the group stage of the 2012 finals – SL Benfica pair Bruno Varela and João Cancelo and Bruma of Sporting Clube de Portugal are the sole survivors – and warmed up impressively by winning April's Porto International Tournament thanks to wins against Georgia, Russia and Serbia, the latter 6-2. Following that success, coach Emílio Peixe said: "Although it's important to win, it's very important that the players are growing as athletes. There is great talent in this team, but I would say Denmark are the favourites to qualify."

Key players: Mané (forward, Sporting Clube de Portugal), Bruma (forward, Sporting Clube de Portugal), João Cancelo (defender, SL Benfica)

Qualifying round: Latvia 2-0, Israel 5-0, France 2-2 (Group 6 runners-up)

Czech Republic
Preparations culminated with two friendly wins at home to Croatia (2-1 and 4-1) and those results – coupled with the performances of some new squad members and a fully-fit squad – give Josef Csaplár cause for optimism. "We've played against Denmark and Portugal, so we know their playing style very well, but also Bulgaria have lots of quality,” said the coach. "We don't belong among the favourites, but our previous games against these opponents proved that we have nothing to be afraid of; we are definitely capable of competing with them."

Key players: Aleš Čermák (midfielder, AC Sparta Praha), Dominik Mašek (forward, Hamburger SV), Lukáš Zima (goalkeeper, FC Genoa), Michal Trávník (midfielder 1.FC Slovácko)

Qualifying round: Northern Ireland 1-1, Moldova 2-0, Greece 2-1 (Group 4 winners)

In the elite round for the first time since 2007/08 – when they went on to reach the finals – Vladimir Stoyanov is optimistic his side can make an impact in Portugal. "I expect open games; the Czech Republic and Denmark are very strong, solid teams while Portugal are skillful and tactically well prepared," said the coach, whose side have not played since the qualifying round. "We have our chances, though; the other teams should not underestimate us."

Key players: Anatoliy Gospodinov (goalkeeper, PFC CSKA Sofia), Georg Iliev (midfielder, Bolton Wanderers FC), Stanislav Dryanov (midfielder, PFC Chernomorets Burgas); Milcho Angelov (forward, PFC Chernomorets Burgas)

Qualifying round: Hungary 1-1, Austria 1-2, Andorra 7-0 (Group 1 runners-up)

Last updated: 03/06/13 12.27CET

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