The long road towards the 2008/09 UEFA European Under-19 Championship kicks off this week, with 52 teams hoping for a place in next summer's final tournament in Ukraine as the qualifying round gets under way.
Germany became the fourth side to win the competition in its seven-year history in July, defeating Italy 3-1 in the Czech Republic, and they will share hosting duties with Luxembourg for Group 6, which begins on 9 October and also includes the Netherlands and Lithuania. The qualifying round action starts a week earlier, however, on 2 October when Italy begin their quest to go one better than last season's efforts in Group 3 in Moldova, with Russia and Latvia also involved, while also on 2 October four-time winners Spain, Switzerland and the Faroe Islands travel to Belarus for Group 13.
Group 2 is the third section to get underway with mini-tournament hosts Estonia joined by Croatia, Belgium and Kazakhstan from 5 October, and three days later Northern Ireland welcome Serbia, Albania and England for Group 9. On 10 October Slovakia, Norway and Armenia travel to Slovenia in Group 5, and the following day F.Y.R. Macedonia have the honour of playing host to Group 8, with Sweden, Austria and Iceland also hoping to progress from the section. A busy month of youth action continues as Group 12 kicks off in Portugal on 14 October, Israel, Finland and Bulgaria also involved, and two sections commence on 20 October – Hungary, semifinalists last season, having home advantage against Scotland, Azerbaijan and San Marino for Group 1, while Group 10 hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina welcome Greece, Poland and Montenegro in Group 10.
The remaining three sections will be played the following month, with Group 11 beginning on 10 November in which Turkey are joined by Romania, Andorra and Wales. France, winners in 2005, are in the penultimate section, which kicks off in Malta and also includes the Republic of Ireland and Liechtenstein, before the qualifying-round action concludes in Group 7, which takes place in Cyprus from 22 November with 2008 finals hosts the Czech Republic, Georgia and Denmark also in contention. The top two teams in each section, together with the two third-placed sides with the best record against the two automatic qualifiers, will progress to the Elite round, which will be held in spring 2009. The eight-team final tournament will take place in Ukraine in July 2009.
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