Spain must get past Belgium, Armenia and Italy if they are to defend their title in Estonia in July after the elite round draw gave a tough group to 2011 runners-up the Czech Republic.
Article top media content
Spain must get past Belgium, Armenia and Italy if they are to defend their UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in Estonia in July after the elite round draw was made for the games in late May.
Only the seven group winners will join the hosts in the finals from 3 to 15 July, and in Group 7 hosted by Italy, Spain will hope for a repeat of last year when they overcame Belgium 4-1 in the opening game of the event in Romania on their way to lifting the trophy. England are hoping to become the first nation to win the U19 title two years after taking the U17 crown but to qualify have to finish above Switzerland, Slovenia and Montenegro in staging Group 2.
Also of note in the draw, made by UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce and last season's Spain captain Pablo Sarabia – who received the Fair Play trophy on his team's behalf – last season's runners-up the Czech Republic have been placed in Group 1, welcoming 2011 U17 champions the Netherlands, France and Norway.
The final tournament will also act as a qualifier for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey; the hosts are already assured of a place in the global event regardless of whether they make it through elite round Group 5 against Greece, hosts Denmark and Cyprus.
Boyce told UEFA.com: "What I have been delighted about in my time being involved with UEFA at youth level is to see countries now being able to host finals, and being able to host them very well, and next year, we're breaking new ground again, we're going to Slovenia for the U17 tournament and Estonia for the U19 tournament. I know that both countries are very excited about having the opportunity of hosting finals – hopefully it will leave a legacy.
"I look back on the years that I have been involved, and I have seen so many of the players who are now established international players who have come through youth football. I've said it many times, I think UEFA deserves the highest credit for organising these competitions."
Elite round draw
Group 1 (25-30 May): France, Netherlands, Czech Republic*, Norway
Group 2 (25-30 May): England (hosts), Switzerland, Slovenia, Montenegro
Group 3 (25-30 May): Hungary, Germany, Romania, Serbia*
Group 4 (26-31 May): Portugal*, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Israel
Group 5 (23-28 May): Greece, Denmark*, Turkey, Cyprus
Group 6 (25-30 May): Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia*, Georgia, Austria
Group 7 (23-28 May): Spain (holders), Belgium, Armenia, Italy*