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Holders Serbia relishing Group B challenge

Published: Friday 18 July 2014, 18.22CET
Serbia are "expecting the best" when they put the title on the line in Group B, with hopes also high among the coaches of opponents Germany, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
by Andrew Haslam
from Gyor

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Published: Friday 18 July 2014, 18.22CET

Holders Serbia relishing Group B challenge

Serbia are "expecting the best" when they put the title on the line in Group B, with hopes also high among the coaches of opponents Germany, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Serbia must deal with the "great responsibility" of defending the UEFA European Under-19 Championship title, with the coaches of Group B rivals Ukraine, Germany and Bulgaria nursing high expectations in Hungary.

Germany are the top team at this tournament, for me they're the leaders – but that doesn't mean they've already won
Aleksandar Dimitrov

Having captured the trophy for the first time in Lithuania a year ago – "a great achievement" according to Veljko Paunović – Serbia are back in the final tournament, although their coach is keen to dampen ambitions. "This year people are expecting the same, for us to defend [the trophy], but we know where we are," Paunović told UEFA.com. "We know we have to be careful and work towards our objectives. Our first is against Ukraine and then we'll go step by step. It's a great responsibility for us and we're happy and expecting the best.

"This is the most important game, it's our final right now; starting with a win would open more possibilities for us," added Paunović, whose squad includes four members of the victorious 2013 group. "[Their experience] should be an advantage, but only if we perform. They need to help other players understand how this tournament works. They need to spread the experience they had as a champion last year to all the team, to push it in the right direction."

First in line are a Ukraine side whose coach Oleksandr Petrakov has no illusions about the significance of the opening fixture at the Eto Park Stadion: "In tournaments the first game is the most important." His team – champions in 2009 but in their first finals since – kept three clean sheets in winning their elite round section, and Petrakov added: "We took a lot of confidence from that. After what we did there, we don't need to be afraid of anything."

©Sportsfile

Serbia coach Veljko Paunović with the trophy

The second match of the double-header in Gyor features Bulgaria against Germany, winners in 2008 and also back in the finals for the first time subsequently. "A year ago when I started working with this team, our first trip took us to Hungary," said coach Marcus Sorg. "Our goal since then has been to come back here to play the European Championship, and we're very happy and glad to have achieved it."

With a number of his charges having been runners-up at the 2012 European U17 Championship, Sorg hopes to draw on that experience – and perhaps a more recent, happier, memory – for inspiration. "We have several players in our squad who played the U17 final. They didn't get the title so it's all the more motivation for us to correct that. We'll do everything in our power to put that right. I really hope the [World Cup] can inspire our players – they could be the next generation of the national team."

Aleksandar Dimitrov says his Bulgaria side are "impatient to start the tournament", although the coach believes the opening game could not have been tougher. "Germany are the top team at this tournament, for me they're the leaders – but that doesn't mean they've already won. We have to be better, stronger, and do everything better than this good, perfect team."

Like Germany and Ukraine, Bulgaria are ending a long wait to appear again at the final tournament – in their case, six years – and Dimitrov is optimistic the alchemy that helped them prevail in qualifying could carry on into this event. "I've been with these players for four years. That's very important. We know each other very well. We're a big family, we like and trust each other. Maybe that's our secret."

Last updated: 18/07/14 18.48CET

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