Under-19 champions for the first time 12 months ago, Veljko Paunović recognises Serbia face a stiff test to retain the title but professes himself "happy with what awaits us".
Article top media content
Champions in Lithuania 12 months ago, Serbia are aiming to defend the UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in Hungary this summer. While recognising that retaining the trophy will be a tall order, coach Veljko Paunović is optimistic he can build on the legacy bequeathed by his predecessor Ljubinko Drulović – now in charge of the senior national team.
UEFA.com: Are you satisfied with the draw?
Veljko Paunović: We are. Both groups are even, and of course every team that has qualified are tough opponents. We are happy with what awaits us, but we are also cautious. We know that we have to prepare ourselves very well for the matches in this group and – if we manage to go through – for the latter stages.
UEFA.com: Who will be your biggest obstacle?
Paunović: In tournaments like this it is always the first opponents, the first match, that is the most important. We've played against Ukraine, we do not know a lot about Bulgaria and we've seen Germany in a tournament in Israel. We are familiar with their strengths, which was also proved by their nine-point tally in the elite round and the victory over Spain. It is also paramount for us to gather all of our available players, as a lot of Serbian teams will be in [UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League] qualifying at the time of the final tournament.
UEFA.com: As holders, do you consider yourselves favourites for the title?
Paunović: We are concentrating of the future, first of all. The title was a great honour and a great responsibility, but this time we have the great chance to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time in our history. That should be our main focus. So for the time being, our only priority is the first match and we will concentrate our preparations on that.
UEFA.com: What is your team's main quality?
Paunović: That we are a team. We are a strong group of guys, who have an enormous desire and passion to repeat the success of the previous generation. We really want to prove our worth. We are a quality team, and that was shown by our results in the tough elite round group with Turkey, Ireland and Iceland. The main thing is, we are one.
UEFA.com: What achievement would satisfy you?
Paunović: Our first priority has to be qualifying for the World Cup in New Zealand, or in other words, we have to be at least third in our group. That said, of course that is not our only goal. But we have to take things gradually. So we will set ourselves new goals as the tournament progresses.