Preparations for six of the teams who will feature at the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel begin in earnest next week with the first round of friendlies since the lineup for the tournament was confirmed last month. Of the eight finalists, only Norway and the Netherlands are not in action before the draw in Tel Aviv on 28 November, which will be streamed live on UEFA.com.
Italy v Spain (Siena, Tuesday, 18.30CET)
Two of next summer's finalists meet in Tuscany. Holders Spain could give a debut to Suso, who has broken into the Liverpool FC team this season, Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender Dani Carvajal and Athletic Club left-back Jon Aurtenetxe. Martín Montoya, the usual right-back, is in the senior squad preparing to play Panama on Wednesday. "The base [of the squad] will be the same team on which we counted during qualifying, but by June it could be many things," said coach Julen Lopetegui, who is missing goalkeeper David De Gea because of a mouth operation.
With the likes of Marco Verratti, Alessandro Florenzi and Stephan El Shaarawy graduating to the full international side, Italy coach Denis Mangia has handed maiden call-ups to three players: defender Federico Barca (US Grossseto FC) and midfielders Daniele Baselli (AS Cittadella) and Jorginho (Hellas-Verona FC). Much of the Azzurrini core squad remains, however, including two players that scored against Sweden in the play-offs, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile. "There is a long way to go to the finals," Mangia said. "But facing a team like Spain is always a good test."
England v Northern Ireland (Blackpool, Tuesday, 20.30CET)
A clutch of new faces have been called up by Stuart Pearce, with some of his original selection being promoted to the senior squad and others, including Sammy Ameobi, pulling out through injury. Uncapped goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, defenders Nat Chalobah and Liam Moore, midfielder Will Hughes and forward Benik Afobe have now been joined by Sheffield United FC centre-back Harry Maguire. "This will be an opportunity for a number of younger players, and those who have not had much game time, to impress and put themselves in contention for a place on the plane next summer," Pearce said.
England, who have not conceded a goal in 2012, are aiming for a sixth successive triumph to equal a winning streak dating back to 1991. "I'm proud of how well the team has performed this year to clinch qualification for the finals yet again," Pearce said. "We are one game away from a sixth consecutive victory, a feat not achieved at U21 level for over 20 years."
Germany v Turkey (Bochum, Wednesday, 18.00CET)
Hamburger SV midfielder Tolgay Arslan and VfB Stuttgart defender Antonio Rüdiger could make their U21 debuts after being selected for the first time by Germany coach Rainer Adrion. "Tolgay and Antonio have made a case for themselves in the U20s and, despite their young age, already have Bundesliga experience," said Adrion. "Our team has proven itself in the play-offs and shown that it can stand up to the test on the international stage."
Having comfortably finished first in their qualifying section, Germany found the going tougher in the play-offs against Switzerland. Adrion expects a similarly difficult assignment against Turkey. "They just failed to qualify for the play-offs, finishing second only to Italy in their group," he said. "They have proven in the past that they play technical, attractive football and they will have lots of support in Bochum."
Israel v Belarus (Jerusalem, Wednesday, 20.00CET)
Defenders Amit Shumovitz, Mohammad Zubeidat and midfielder Israel Zaguri – from Maccabi Netanya FC, Bnei Sakhnin FC and Hapoel Ramat Gan FC respectively – have been rewarded for their club form with a maiden call-up to the Israel squad. "There are many good players and we have to give everyone a chance," said coach Guy Luzon. "The game against Belarus is another opportunity for us to see where we stand in terms of preparation."
Israel, hosts of next summer's finals, defeated Belarus 2-1 in a friendly two years ago. Since then, Luzon's charges have lost to Serbia, the Netherlands, Uzbekistan, England and France. The encounter with Belarus will be the Blue and Whites' fourth fixture of 2012; so far they have beaten Ukraine (4-0) and Belgium (4-1) and drawn with Russia (2-2).
Russia are the last finals team in action but, preparation wise, they are looking ahead to the 2015 competition. A pool of talent will be tried out against Slovakia in Marbella, and against Italy in Fiuggi, with both games taking place on Wednesday. Only one player who was used in qualifying for Israel – Maksim Zhestokov, maker of a solitary appearance – will be involved as Russia keep their powder dry ahead of next summer's finals.
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