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Quartet poised for semi-final face-off

With semi-final places still undecided in Group A, Saturday's final round of matches promises to make for a tense afternoon in Slovakia with all four teams able to progress.

Lukáš Haraslín's (right) Slovakia are well-placed to progress
Lukáš Haraslín's (right) Slovakia are well-placed to progress ©Sportsfile

Host nation Slovakia and Sweden have the edge as all four teams in Group A head into the final round of matches with the semi-finals still a realistic objective.

Having made quite a splash on their finals debut in this category, the hosts are best-placed to progress. Unbeaten on four points and with a superior goal difference to second-placed Sweden, a draw in Zilina will send Ladislav Pecko's side through as well as their opponents.

"Of course this team is capable of doing it," coach Pecko, whose goalkeeper Martin Junas has shaken off a jaw injury, told UEFA.com. "Anything can happen. We will do everything to get a good rest in the time ahead of us and we must get ready for Saturday in the best possible way."

Regardless of the result at the Štadión MŠK Žilina, both Slovakia and Sweden can look forward to being two of Europe's six representatives at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates next October. While Slovakia will be without suspended defender Šimon Kupec, opponents Sweden are deprived of forward Gustav Engvall for the same reason though striker Valmir Berisha, who suffered a broken nose in the opening defeat of Switzerland, is available as coach Roland Larsson aims to improve on the 1-1 draw with Austria. 

"We're looking forward to the game against Slovakia," Larsson told UEFA.com after seeing his team struggle to a point in Dubnica nad Vahom on Wednesday. "I think we'll play better. The boys are going to have a look at their performance, and we'll talk about it, but I think we'll go back to the kind of play we've been successful with up till now."

Should the game in Zilina finish level, events in Dubnica nad Vahom will be rendered academic as far as a semi-final spot is concerned, but even a draw in the match 65km away would leave third position in the section – and a ticket to the global finals in the United Arab Emirates – as a consolation prize.

"We are at least in the running for the World Cup," Austria boss Hermann Stadler, who has a full squad available, said. "We'll see what comes of it in the end, but we'll try everything. We'll put everything into the last match to win against Switzrland, to achieve our minimum goal of qualifying for the World Cup."

Switzerland's future would have been brighter had their 2-0 lead against Slovakia brought more than a point. Those two strikes, however, mean Heinz Moser's side go into the game in third place, ahead of Austria – beaten by the Slovaks last weekend – on goals scored.

"For the semi-final, it's clear we need Sweden to help us out. The only way we can possibly qualify is if Sweden beat Slovakia," said Moser, who is missing the suspended Marco Trachsel, sent off on Wednesday.

"On the other side, the minimum objective is to qualify for the World Cup. We're in a better position than Austria for the moment. I think that if we perform like we did against Slovakia, we're really commited, show desire, and try to be more decisive, then a win against Austria is possible."

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