Holders set for tough U21 defence

Five-time winners Italy will play against Denmark, Ukraine and the Netherlands in the final tournament after the draw was made in Porto this afternoon.

Five-time winners Italy will begin their defence of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship title against Denmark, the Netherlands and Ukraine following this afternoon's final-round draw in Porto.

Dominant force
The Italians have triumphed in five of the last seven championships and defeated Serbia and Montenegro 3-0 in the final in Bochum, Germany in 2004. Claudio Gentile's side will face a stern task if they are to collect the trophy for a sixth time, however, having been placed in Group B at the draw, which was conducted by Portuguese legend Eusébio in tandem with UEFA National Teams Committee chairman Lars-Åke Lagrell.

Danish date
They will meet Denmark, the 1992 semi-finalists who have not been involved in the tournament's latter stages since, the Netherlands, who will host the 2007 finals, and Ukraine, first-time finalists having qualified in dramatic fashion by scoring three goals in the last 20 minutes of their play-off second leg to beat Belgium 3-1 and triumph 5-4 overall. Denmark were undefeated en route to Portugal and will renew acquaintances with the Ukrainians, whom they encountered in qualifying Group 2.

Home challenge
Hosts Portugal came third in 2004 and will be eager to improve on that this summer. The Portuguese won all ten qualifying group games before ousting Switzerland in the play-offs. They now tackle France, Germany, and Serbia and Montenegro in a competitive-looking Group A. Germany were unable to progress beyond the group stage on home soil two years ago, while France, champions in 1998 and runners-up in Switzerland four years ago, will also hope to reassert themselves at this level having failed to make the finals last time out. Finally, Serbia and Montenegro, silver medallists in 2004, qualified at the expense of neighbours Croatia whom they overcame 5-2 on aggregate in the play-offs.

Prestigious venues
The action begins on Tuesday 23 May, with all eight teams playing each of the other sides in their section. The top two in each group will advance to the semi-finals, which are scheduled to take place at two of the stadiums that hosted matches at UEFA EURO 2004TM - the Municipal de Braga and the Municipal de Aveiro - on Thursday 1 June. The final will be held at the Estádio do Bessa Século XXI, home of Boavista FC, on Sunday 4 June.

2006 UEFA European Under-21 Championship
23 May - 4 June
Group A Group B
1 Portugal 1 Italy
2 France 2 Denmark
3 Serbia and Montenegro 3 Ukraine
4 Germany 4 Netherlands