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Malta look to hold their own against old hands

Debutants and U17 hosts Malta know they will have their work cut out against a "typically Dutch" side, a balanced England and a united Turkey in Group A.

The Group A coaches will hope to get their hands on the trophy again on 21 May
The Group A coaches will hope to get their hands on the trophy again on 21 May ©Domenic Aquilina

Cross a tournament debutant with three more experienced hands, mix in a stunning beachside setting and an expectant host nation, and this UEFA European Under-17 Championship is most certainly an intriguing blend.

The coaches of England, Malta, the Netherlands and Turkey addressed the assembled media on Friday at a hotel in Mellieha, an elevated town in north-west Malta which is surrounded on three sides by the alluringly blue Mediterranean Sea. This is not only the island's maiden tournament as hosts, their team will be the first to represent their country at any UEFA finals. Some things in football, though, rarely change.

"Our team is certainly typically Dutch in style," said Maarten Stekelenburg, whose Netherlands side kick off their campaign against Turkey at the Ta' Qali National Stadium on Friday morning. "The reason we play like that is because we believe we can win – it's our philosophy and the style we think enables us to compete at this level.

"I always say that the players need to enjoy the moment. It's fantastic that they qualified but now they have the platform to show what they can do. I believe if we do that, we have a team to compete." Hidde ter Avest serves a one-game ban against Turkey.

Stekelenburg is in the Jong Oranje dugout following last year's departure of Albert Stuivenburg, who left for the Under-21s after guiding successive U17 crops to glory in 2011 and 2012. The year prior to that, John Peacock led England to victory in Liechtenstein. He is now heading into his eighth finals event in charge, starting against the hosts, when he will be without the suspended Isaiah Brown.

"We're confident but we're not overconfident," said Peacock. "Though the expectations are high, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. That little bit of pressure is something the players are going to have to deal with. We qualified very well, so other teams are going to be looking at you. I haven't looked any further than playing against Malta. As the host nation, tournament football will new to them, but I know they'll be totally focused on getting the scalp of England."

The teams are assembled in Mellieha
The teams are assembled in Mellieha©Sportsfile

Quite. Malta coach Sergio Soldano has overseen a series of preparatory fixtures for the past 18 months, but is all too aware that this will be an entirely new experience. "We are prepared and well organised, and we know plenty about the high-profile opponents we are going to be facing in this group," he said.

"It is the biggest game of their lives. Though we have plenty of respect for teams like England, we also have a big respect for ourselves. Just as England can play good football, Malta can play good football as well."

So to Turkey, who lifted this trophy back in 2005. For coach Hakan Tecimer, this is a campaign that is more about player development than silverware. "Our main aim is playing as a team and not as individuals," he said. "The most important thing for us to gain from the tournament is experience.

"Every game they play, every minute they spend together, they should be learning things that they can use in their future careers. Fair play and respect is also very important to us; I ask all my players to behave and show respect on and off the pitch."

Full match and television schedule is available here.