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Tough task for holders Spain in Group 4

Published: Tuesday 4 June 2013, 9.44CET
Holders Spain face a repeat of last year's final against Greece in elite round Group 4, while hosts Poland and Croatia also have Under-19 pedigree on their side from Wednesday.
Tough task for holders Spain in Group 4
José Rodríguez on his UEFA Champions League debut for Madrid against Ajax ©AFP
Published: Tuesday 4 June 2013, 9.44CET

Tough task for holders Spain in Group 4

Holders Spain face a repeat of last year's final against Greece in elite round Group 4, while hosts Poland and Croatia also have Under-19 pedigree on their side from Wednesday.

Spain
That the holders and six-time winners are showing no signs of relenting in their production of future talent is evident in the squad that has gathered under coach Luis de la Fuente. UEFA Champions League experience arrives in the form of Real Madrid CF's youngest ever European Cup player José Rodríguez, while winger Álvaro Vadillo has enjoyed an impressive season for Real Betis Balompié. "Almost all of us know each other from the U17s so we know how [we are expected to play]," Real Madrid Castilla forward Raúl de Tomás said. "We are strong and have worked hard to get through this elite round." Preparations have not run perfectly, however, March's 1-0 friendly defeat in Germany preceding a 1-1 draw against Club Atlético de Madrid B.

Key players: José Rodríguez (midfielder, Real Madrid CF), Álvaro Vadillo (winger, Real Betis Balompié), Fede Vico (midfielder, Córdoba CF), Iker Hernández (forward, Real Sociedad de Fútbol)

Qualifying round: bye

Croatia
Having capitalised on home advantage in the qualifying round, Croatia's season has continued with a 2-2 draw against France in February and two April losses (1-2, 1-4) away to the Czech Republic, yet coach Dinko Jeličić – who can call upon the qualifying round's top scorer, six-goal Tomislav Kiš – remains confident. "It won't be easy. Spain are favourites for sure, Poland will be strong hosts and Greece are always difficult to beat but I hope we can do well in the first two matches and set up a decider against Spain."

Key players: Tomislav Kiš (forward, HNK Hajduk Split), Kruno Ivančić (forward, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Jozo Šimunović (defender, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Domagoj Pavičić (midfielder, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Marko Malenica (goalkeeper, NK Osijek)

Qualifying round: Georgia 2-0, Iceland 2-2, Azerbaijan 7-1 (Group 11 winners)

Poland
Since taking charge in January, Marcin Sasal has overseen two friendly wins against Georgia (3-1 and 3-0) and a 1-3 defeat by Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We're hosts so we want to show we can play good football," said the coach, who is without Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zieliński after the pair were called into the U21 and senior sides respectively, while creative midfielder Karol Linetty is missing with a head injury. "That's life," added Sasal. "There's no doubt Spain are the favourites, they've won the last two tournaments – but that doesn't mean they'll win again."

Key players: Mariusz Stępiński (forward, 1. FC Nürnberg), Martin Kobylanski (forward, SV Werder Bremen), Gracjan Horoszkiewicz (defender, Hertha BSC Berlin), Dariusz Formella (defender, KKS Lech Poznań)

Qualifying round: San Marino 2-0, Malta 5-0, Netherlands 1-3 (Group 3 runners-up)

Greece
Runner-up to Spain in 2007 and again in Estonia last summer, Greece's all-new squad have recorded some solid warm-up results, including wins against Belgium (1-0) and Ukraine (2-1) and a 1-1 draw with Cyprus. "We have to defend the honour and accomplishment of the previous squad, who were second in Europe last year," said coach Thodoros Pachatouridis. "The opening match against Croatia is key; that will determine our chances. We have worked hard and we have a strong, balanced squad, but only by giving 100% can we get through this group."

Key players: Nikos Ioannidis (forward, Olympiacos FC), Christos Donis (midfielder, Panathinaikos FC), Dimitris Goutas (defender, Xanthi FC), Diamantis Chouchoumis (defender, Panathinaikos FC)

Qualifying round: Moldova 0-0, Northern Ireland 2-0, Czech Republic 1-2 (Group 4 runners-up)

Last updated: 04/06/13 13.06CET

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