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Group 2 rivals aim for the top in Bulgaria

Published: Friday 23 May 2014, 6.43CET
Bulgaria host recent runners-up the Czech Republic (2011) and Italy (2008), plus Sweden, for their elite round section with all four looking towards the finals.
Group 2 rivals aim for the top in Bulgaria
Kiril Despodov (No7) in action for Bulgaria ©Meridian Match
Published: Friday 23 May 2014, 6.43CET

Group 2 rivals aim for the top in Bulgaria

Bulgaria host recent runners-up the Czech Republic (2011) and Italy (2008), plus Sweden, for their elite round section with all four looking towards the finals.

Czech Republic
The bulk of the Czech preparations were in Portugal in April, where new coach Pavel Hoftych gave chances to some new names and was rewarded as his side drew 1-1 with Russia and bounced back from a 3-0 defeat against the hosts to beat Georgia 2-1 and finish second. "There's no doubt we'll face tough opposition in the elite round," Hoftych told "We've acquired a lot of information about all of our opponents. We're putting a lot of emphasis on the opening game against Italy as that might be the key to success."

Qualifying round: Cyprus 4-1, Gibraltar 3-0, Croatia 3-0 (Group 1 winners)

Key players: Jindřich Staněk (goalkeeper, Everton FC), Lukáš Buchvaldek (midfielder, SK Sigma Olomouc), Aleš Matějů (defender, PSV Eindhoven), Dominik Mašek (forward, Hamburger SV)

Although they have never appeared in a U19 finals, Sweden's team is sprinkled with a handful of younger players who reached the semi-final at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship and finished third at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup. In March, coach Tomas Turesson's team lost 3-0 and 2-0 in Iceland. "Several players were not available having been picked for the U21s or, in the case of Muamer Tankovic, Sweden's seniors," said Turesson. "Player for player, we're at the same level as our opponents. Our strength is that we want possession, we want to dictate the game. We don't rely on sitting back and counterattacking."

Qualifying round: Bosnia and Herzegovina 4-1, Republic of Ireland 0-1, Azerbaijan 5-1 (Group 3 runners-up)

Key players: Sebastian Starke Hedlund (defender, FC Schalke 04), Kristoffer Olsson (midfielder, Arsenal FC), Melker Hallberg (midfielder, Kalmar FF), Simon Gustafsson (midfielder, BK Häcken), Muamer Tankovic (forward, Fulham FC)

Good results in recent friendly games – included a 1-1 draw against Germany and a 4-2 win against Switzerland – have boosted the confidence of Alessandro Pane's side, with several players having already made their Serie A debuts. Goalkeeper Simone Scuffet is now first choice at Udinese Calcio, while midfielder Bryan Cristante scored for AC Milan. "Against a strong team like Germany, we proved that we are on the right track," said former Empoli FC midfielder Pane. "You can only measure how good you are by facing the best teams in the continent."

Qualifying round: Israel 0-2, Liechtenstein 5-0, Denmark 2-0 (third in Group 10)

Key players: Simone Scuffet (goalkeeper, Udinese Calcio), Alessio Romagnoli (defender, AS Roma), Bryan Cristante (midfielder, AC Milan), Alberto Cerri (striker, Parma FC)

In the elite round for the second year running, coach Alexander Dimitrov said: "I have been working with this age group for four years and we hope to do even better now. The group is really very hard. We respect Italy, Sweden and the Czech Republic, but we will be ready for them. The chances are 25% for each team, but we are hosts and I hope we will get the fans behind us." He is without goalkeeper Georgi Kitanov, who has been called up by the senior side, and oversaw a 1-0 friendly win against Ukraine in March before last month's losses to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1-3) and Romania (0-2).

Qualifying round: Slovakia 2-1, Greece 1-1, Albania 1-1 (Group 6 runners-up)

Key players: Antonio Vutov (midfielder, Udinese Calcio), Kiril Despodov (forward, PFC Litex Lovech), Radoslav Tsonev (midfielder, PFC Levski Sofia)

Last updated: 04/06/14 10.10CET

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