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England eager to earn finals return

Having missed out on the 2011 tournament, the Group 2 hosts are aiming to get the better of Switzerland, Slovenia and Montenegro as they target a place in the Estonia finals.

England coach Noel Blake
England coach Noel Blake ©Getty Images

Noel Blake's team missed out on the 2011 finals after being edged out by Spain in the elite round despite victories against Switzerland and Montenegeo. England started the season with draws against France and the Netherlands but have won their last four fixtures and Blake is optimistic of a finals return. "People might think it's going to be easy but it won't be," the coach said. "Last year we encountered both Montenegro and Switzerland at this stage and they were both hard games. Switzerland won the World Cup at U17 level a few years ago and Montenegro won't be easy to break down while Slovenia are an emerging nation, so it will be a good test for us. But with the squad we've got, if we perform we'll get a favourable outcome."

Key players
Ross Barkley (midfielder, Everton FC), Harry Kane (forward, Tottenham Hotspur FC), Benik Afobe (forward, Arsenal FC)

Qualifying round
Bye to elite round

Switzerland's last two friendly matches have produced contrasting results, going down 3-0 in the Netherlands but beating Estonia 4-0, and Gérard Castella is hoping the latter proves a more reliable guide than the former. "We enter the elite round after a positive last match, but Montenegro, Slovenia and England will be another class to Estonia,” the head coach said. "That's why we must not rest now but continue to work hard on eradicating our weaknesses."

Key players
Arlind Ajeti (defender, FC Basel 1893), Mattia Desole (defender, AC Milan), Sead Hajrovic (defender, Arsenal FC), Kerim Frei (midfielder, Fulham FC), Darko Jevtic (midfielder, FC Basel 1893)

Qualifying round
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 3-0, Kazakhstan 2-0, Ukraine 1-1 (second in Group 6)

Unbeaten in the qualifying round, Slovenia harbour high hopes of springing a surprise here. Their optimism has received a shot in the arm recently thanks to friendly triumphs over Greece (4-2) and Austria (5-1). "We are delighted to play the elite round," said coach Jarc Borut. "We know all about the strength of the opponents, but on the other hand we are aware of our own quality and the great desire of this generation. I hope we can maintain our level in our first match against England despite having three key players [Matej Pučko, Matej Palčič and Edin Čolič] suspended.

Key players
Luka Krajnc (midfielder, Genoa CFC), Mitja Lotrič (forward, NK Mura 05), Erik Janža (defender, NK Mura 05), Nejc Praprotnik (forward, Atalanta BC)

Qualifying round
Scotland 2-1, Belgium 0-0, Wales 3-2 (second in Group 8)

In the elite round for the third season running, Aleksandar Miljenović opted for a series of stern warm-up tests, playing two games against Italy (1-1, 0-3), holders Spain (2-2, 0-3) and Denmark (2-2, 0-5). "We showed we have potential when we play at full strength; the matches where we were missing first-choice players, we lost," said coach Miljenović. "This is the final exam for this very talented generation. I'm sure a lot of our players will go on to our U21 and senior teams. We don't have any illusions, but we'll be tough rivals and I hope we'll gain at least one positive result."

Key players
Luka Djordjević (forward, FK Mogren), Marko Bakić (midfielder, FK Mogren), Marko Vukčević (midfielder, FK Budućnost Podgorica)

Qualifying round
Belarus 0-0, Germany 0-2, Northern Ireland 2-1 (second in Group 7)