Final chance to tinker for Israel contenders

The coaches of the eight finalists have a last chance to assess the claims of those hoping to take part at this summer's Under-21 tournament in a series of March friendlies.

Coach Guy Luzon of Israel in action during their friendly against Serbia
Coach Guy Luzon of Israel in action during their friendly against Serbia ©IFA

With the finals less than three months away, the participating teams have a vital window of preparation over the next few days as they finalise plans for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

The very nature of this level of the game means that new players can burst onto the scene from seemingly nowhere. A good run in club football can catapult those who were perhaps not in the thinking of the national team coaches – or were maybe earmarked for the 2013–15 edition due to their youth – into the final squad or even help them nail down a starting berth.

Most sides heading to Israel this summer are playing two games in this international break with England manager Stuart Pearce, for example, calling up 28 players – a number he will have to cut by five in due course. "These games against Romania and Austria are our last before I have to name my 23-man squad for June," said Pearce. While England have opted to play teams not travelling to Israel, the other finalists have taken a different approach.

The hosts have been on a diet of friendlies for over two years now. With that long preparation period almost complete, their forthcoming games against the Netherlands and Germany – in Petah Tivka and Tel Aviv respectively – should offer them an accurate gauge of how far they have come under Guy Luzon's stewardship. It is also an opportunity for the visitors to get a feel for some of the venues that will hold finals games.

Like Israel, Norway are only taking part in their second finals and also like the hosts, they are playing a couple of games against sides in the opposing group at the tournament. The only March fixture that will be repeated in June is the Spain v Russia game in Alcorcon, with those sides having the chance to lay down a marker before the real business gets under way this summer.

March Under-21 friendlies
England v Romania, 21 March (Wycombe)
Israel v Netherlands, 21 March (Petah Tivka)
Spain v Norway, 21 March (Toledo)
Italy v Russia, 22 March (Cittadella)
Israel v Germany, 24 March (Tel Aviv)
Netherlands v Norway, 25 March (Waalwijk)
Spain v Russia, 25 March (Alcorcon)
England v Austria, 25 March (Brighton)