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Group B coaches predict close contests

The coaches of Serbia, Turkey, France and Georgia believe each of the four teams in Group B could progress to the semi-finals, with the opening matches potentially crucial.

Turkey coach Okan Buruk (left) lines up with France's Francis Smerecki, Giorgi Tsetsadze of Georgia and Serbia head coach Ljubinko Drulović
Turkey coach Okan Buruk (left) lines up with France's Francis Smerecki, Giorgi Tsetsadze of Georgia and Serbia head coach Ljubinko Drulović ©Sportsfile

The coaches of the four Group B sides are anticipating a contest of fine margins when the UEFA European Under-19 Championship kicks off in Lithuania this weekend.

While Serbia, Turkey and France are old hands at the competition, Georgia are in the final tournament for the first time, yet the four men in charge were adamant there will be little room for error. "All the teams in the group have a chance to qualify for the semi-finals," said Turkey's Okan Buruk, a European U18 champion in 1992 and the man who succeeded Feyyaz Oçur as coach earlier this week. "They all play attractive football and we're here to contribute to that."

Serbia have reached the semi-finals twice in the last four years, and coach Ljubinko Drulović confirmed that is the target again. "I hope for the best for this tournament and we hope we have the quality to get to the semi-finals. In our group France are the favourites but the other three teams have a good chance of qualifying."

France certainly have the pedigree having lifted the trophy in 2005 and 2010. Francis Smerecki masterminded the latter triumph in Normandy and has returned for another tilt at the title, although he recognises there are also long-term benefits to the event. "Qualifying means these players are the future of French football. The first match is very important, especially for confidence at the start of the tournament, and with two teams qualifying it helps clear the path to the semi-finals."

That opening fixture is against Georgia in Alytus on Saturday, and opposition coach Giorgi Tsetsadze echoed his colleagues' view on the importance of a positive start. "The first match is very significant; three points from that puts you in a very good position," he explained. "We're very happy just to be here. It gives us a chance of moving to the next stage of our development, so it's important for Georgia.

"This is a very strong tournament and every team has a good chance of getting through," Tsetsadze added. "Every game will be very interesting and we're ready for them. We'll try to make the Georgian people happy."

Also hoping for a morale-boosting finals is Buruk, whose squad contains nine players who helped Turkey to the last 16 of the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil at the beginning of the month. "We've had a difficult summer with the U20 World Cup and the Mediterranean Games, so we've not had a lot of time to prepare, but with our work here – and concentration from the players – we'll be ready," he said.

"The players will gain more international experience and we want to go all the way to the final. 'Winning the first match is very important'; that's what we keep repeating to the players. Winning it will open the door to the semi-finals."

Turkey's opponents in Marijampole on Saturday are Serbia. Drulović's side were in Lithuania for a friendly tournament last autumn and, while declaring himself "happy to be back", the coach is remaining focused. "This gives us the chance to show our potential at the highest level. We have only two players currently playing abroad, which is unusual for us, so this is a chance for others to show their talent. At this point, the first game is the most important but we're hoping to play well in every game, not just one."

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