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'Favourites' Croatia host Group 6 hopefuls

The penultimate elite round section to begin, Group 6 pits together three qualifying round winners in Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosts Croatia, and Georgia, as well as Austria.

Georgia's Valeri Kazaishvili scored a hat-trick against France recently
Georgia's Valeri Kazaishvili scored a hat-trick against France recently ©Eka Eloshvili@GFF

Bosnia and Herzegovina are embarking on their third elite round campaign at this level, but they are yet to reach an U19 final tournament. A 100% record in the qualifying round has raised their hopes of breaking that duck, but coach Toni Karačić knows Croatia will be a tough nut to crack. "We have a chance but the hosts are number one favourite, while we also have respect for Georgia and Austria," he said. Karačić's charges continued their preparations with a 3-1 friendly defeat in Albania.

Key players
Kristian Jajalo (goalkeeper, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Dino Bevap (defender, NK Zagreb), Sanjn Prcić (midfield, FC Sochaux-Montbéliard), Marko Maletić (midfield, FC Utrecht), Irfan Hadžić (forward, Vitesse)

Qualifying round
Russia 2-0, Republic of Ireland 2-0, Bulgaria 2-1 (first in Group 2)

Croatia, winners of their qualifying-round section in the Netherlands, played a friendly tournament in Umag last month, beating Turkey 3-0 and drawing 2-2 against Slovakia before going down 3-0 to their own Under-18 team. "We couldn't count on half our players as they have important roles in their senior clubs, which will be to our advantage," said Jelićić. "We have a tough group. Bosnia and Herzegovina won all their games in a difficult group, Georgia are improving very quickly and also won their group and Austria invest a lot in youth football. We will do everything we can. We have an excellent team as we showed in the Netherlands."

Key players
Mateo Kovačić (midfielder, GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Marko Livaja (forward, FC Internazionale Milano), Ante Rebić (forward, RNK Split), Ivan Močinić (midfielder, HNK Rijeka).

Qualifying round
Finland 4-2, Moldova 4-0, Netherlands 0-0 (first in Group 11)

Coach Giorgi Devdariani left for FC Dinamo Tbilisi after the qualifying round so Otar Korgalidze took the reins at the start of March and promptly changed the formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1. His charges took time to adapt, drawing 1-1 and 0-0 with Cyprus before losing 5-0 in Portugal but then defeated France 3-0, Valeri Kazaishvili scoring a hat-trick, and a 3-2 victory over Serbia. Georgia's Under-17 team reached the semi-finals at their UEFA European Championship at the start of the month and their U19 counterparts are hopeful of a similar impact, Korgalidze saying: "We showed the lads our opponents' games and they have even more confidence now."

Key players
Giorgi Chanturia (forward, Vitesse), Davit Skhirtladze (midfielder, AGF Århus), Valeri Kazaishvili (midfielder, Vitesse).

Qualifying round
Poland 3-1, Turkey 1-1, Luxembourg 2-0 (first in Group 9)

"We're well prepared and everyone firmly believes that we can qualify for the finals," said coach Rupert Marko after Austria's last friendly against Liechtenstein ended in a 5-0 win. "This was definitely a successful last test before the elite round." Marko's team is heavily reliant on foreign-based players although forward Marcel Sabitzer will be absent as he has been called into the senior squad. Austria did not concede a goal in their three qualifying round games and last reached the finals in 2010.

Key players
Lukas Spendlhofer (defender, FC Internazionale Milano), Marcel Ritzmaier (midfielder, PSV Eindhoven), Kevin Stöger (midfielder, VfB Stuttgart), Philipp Prosenik (striker, AC Milan)

Qualifying round
Malta 3-0, Albania 0-0, Denmark 0-0 (second in Group 12)