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Scotland dark horses amid Group B thoroughbreds

"Surprise packages" and "not to be underestimated", Scotland are highly fancied in Group B despite coming up against former winners Germany, Portugal and Switzerland.

Scot Gemmill, Christian Wück, Bertrand Choffat and Emílio Peixe with the trophy
Scot Gemmill, Christian Wück, Bertrand Choffat and Emílio Peixe with the trophy ©Domenic Aquilina

Scotland, back at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship for only their second appearance, have been singled out as potential dark horses in Group B.

Scotland's sole previous foray in this competition came in 2008, when they lost all three of their group stage games. Gemmill will hope this is a far happier experience for a team that won five of their six qualifiers en route to Malta. Scotland arrived on the island on Sunday – two to three days earlier than most of their opponents – in order to acclimatise to conditions far hotter than normally found north of the border in the United Kingdom.

"The key is getting the balance of not being overconfident but having belief," said the former international midfielder. "The players know they're going to play against tough opposition, but that's why they've worked so hard over the last 18 months. Whether we play three games, four games or five games in Malta, the development of the players and the team is why we're here. If they act like footballers, I'll treat them like footballers.

"The crucial point is that in the elite round, only the top team qualified. I'm not understating the importance of the first game at the finals – it's crucial – but perhaps there is almost more margin for error because the top two qualify." Gemmill's father Archie, a formidable player in his time and coach of the Scotland side that reached the U19 finals in 2006, will be in Malta for the duration.

Germany coach Christian Wück
Germany coach Christian Wück©Sportsfile

Germany coach Christian Wück pinpointed Gemmill's team as "surprise packages with never-ending desire", but must first focus on neighbours Switzerland, whom his side face on the nearby island of Gozo on Friday morning. For Wück, this section is very much up for grabs. "I think it's a very even group in which everybody can beat anybody," he said. "This is the crowning moment of the players' career so far. It's an amazing experience for an U17 player to be able to show themselves in front of the live television cameras, on such a big stage."

Assistant coach Bertrand Choffat, meanwhile, knows the Swiss cannot go entirely under the radar having eliminated two-time trophy winners Spain and holders Russia in the elite round. "It's a very, very difficult group and we are outsiders, but you don't knock Spain out by fluke," he said. "We're here to play a role, but without putting ourselves under too much pressure. It's good to play Germany first because if you start well against them, the tournament opens up. Scotland must not be underestimated too – you've got to watch out for them."

Emílio Peixe's Portugal will have to do just that first up. Winners in 2003, the Portuguese are keen to make the most of their time in southern Europe. "We're going to try and savour the fact that we're here, do our best and hope that our team and players can make a positive impression," said Peixe. "We're aiming to play with passion and joy, be very well-organised and keep our balance throughout each different period of the game. The main objective is to show how positive, exciting and well-organised our youth football can be."

Full match and television schedule is available here.

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