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Spain seek to inflict early end to Russia defence

Holders Russia and two-time winners Spain meet in elite round Group 1, with Switzerland and Wales – both unbeaten in the qualifying round – looking to upset the odds.

Russia won the title in Slovakia last year
Russia won the title in Slovakia last year ©UEFA.com

After triumphing in Slovakia last year, expectations are high. Russia are elite round hosts and will therefore see it as a must to finish top of their section. However, coach Sergei Kiryakov knows his side face a tough test. "The opposition are very dangerous," said the former Russian international. "Spain are one of the best sides in Europe, Switzerland look strong in U17 competitions and have had decent results, while Wales are a very combative team and dark horses."

Russia will be without two defenders – FC Dinamo Moskva's Sergei Evtushenko and FC Spartak Moskva's Oleg Krasilnichenko – due to injury, but performed impressively at a recent tournament in Minsk. "We played quality football and won the tournament," said Kiryakov. "We have enough confidence and hope to qualify for the finals."

Qualifying round: Slovakia 2-1, Azerbaijan 1-0, Iceland 1-2 (Group 10 runners-up)

Key players: Daniil Yamschikov (midfielder, FC Dinamo Moskva), Dmitri Malikov (forward, FC Spartak Moskva), Maksimilian Pronichev (forward, Hertha BSC Berlin)

Santi Denia's squad not only emerged from their qualifying round – against hosts Cyprus, Moldova and Norway – with maximum points, they did so without conceding. That was not the case in the build-up to this elite round campaign, however, with the two-time winners held to three straight 1-1 friendly draws away from home – twice against Germany and once against Italy. "We feel very united and are full of confidence that we can qualify," said goalkeeper Carlos Marín Tomás during a team training camp in Madrid last month.

Qualifying round: Moldova 3-0, Cyprus 1-0, Norway 2-0 (Group 8 winners)

Key players: Carlos Marín Tomás (goalkeeper, Club Atlético de Madrid), Aleix García (midfielder, Villarreal CF), Asier Villalibre (forward, Athletic Club)

A quick glance at the opposition tells its own story – Switzerland are facing a big ask. Team manager Daniel Gonzalez says: "Looking at the names, we have been paired with the really big nations. Spain are one of the best sides in Europe and Russia are the reigning U17 champions. This is a nice challenge for the team."

Switzerland coach Yves Débonnaire
Switzerland coach Yves Débonnaire©Sportsfile

Following wins against Austria (4-0) and Kazakhstan (3-0), Yves Débonnaire's side secured first place in qualifying round Group 12 courtesy of a goalless draw with Denmark. "I can only congratulate my players on winning this round," said the coach. "Considering our performances, we want to take another step forward in the elite round.

Qualifying round: Austria 4-0, Kazakhstan 3-0, Denmark 0-0 (Group 12 winners)

Key players: Albian Ajeti (forward, FC Basel 1893), Senad Mujovic (Goalkeeper, Grasshopper Club), Roberto Alves (midfielder, Grasshopper Club)

Following an undefeated qualifying round, Wales welcomed the Czech Republic for a double-header in Newport in February, claiming a 3-1 win in the opening fixture before being held to a 2-2 draw in the return. Captain Joseff Morrell played a starring role in both fixtures.

Manager Geraint Williams, meanwhile, is keen to promote the development aspect of the competition. "Some of our youngsters have had the chance to go and train with the seniors," said Williams. "The player pathway is vital to the future success of Wales teams at all levels." U17 striker Harry Wilson has already made his full international debut, in the process becoming the youngest player to represent Wales.

Qualifying round: Hungary 5-5, Scotland 0-0, Slovenia 3-0 (Group 4 runners-up)

Key players: Joseff Morrell (midfielder, Bristol City FC), Luke Pilling (goalkeeper, Tranmere Rovers FC), Ioan Evans (defender, Sheffield United FC)