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Final tournament

Switzerland kicked off the final tournament with victories against Denmark and Iceland
Switzerland kicked off the final tournament with victories against Denmark and Iceland ©Getty Images

Joining hosts Denmark in the finals are seven battle-hardened sides who progressed through a gruelling group stage that began in March 2009 then held their nerve in the play-offs to seal their place. Given the pedigree of some of the teams that fell along the way there is no doubting the quality of those that made it this far.

Denmark will meet Switzerland, Iceland and Belarus in Group A, while Group B pits beaten 2009 finalists England against the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Spain. For the first time all 53 member associations took part in the qualifying competition, with eight still standing ahead of the finals in Aarhus, Aalborg, Herning and Viborg. The tournament kicks off on 11 June 2011 when Denmark face Switzerland and Belarus take on Iceland, with the final held a fortnight later in Aarhus on 25 June.

The Czech Republic were the only team to progress through qualifying undefeated and, after stopping holders Germany in their tracks in Group 5, have high hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2002. Tomáš Pekhart finished qualifying as the nine-goal top scorer, but it was Iceland, runners-up to the Czech Republic, who really caught the eye in front of goal. They struck a tournament-leading 33 times, including a stunning 4-1 rout of Germany, to reach their first finals.

It is a measure of just how tough qualifying was that only three of the countries that contested the 2009 finals in Sweden are back this time – Belarus, England and Spain – and that of the eight finalists just England (twice), Spain (twice) and the Czechs (once) have won it before.

If Iceland were the surprise package of qualifying then Belarus pulled off the most astonishing result – overturning a 2-0 play-off first-leg defeat by five-times champions Italy with a 3-0 triumph in Borisov. Two goals within the first five minutes from Vladimir Yurchenko set up that win, and he will be one of many rising stars attempting to follow a line of illustrious predecessors in gracing the U21 finals stage.

Among the talent on display in Denmark, Spain can boast two FIFA World Cup winners in Javi Martínez and Juan Mata; England, the only nation to have qualified for the finals for a third successive time, can call on the likes of Daniel Sturridge, while Switzerland will look to Xherdan Shaqiri to continue the significant strides he has made this year.

Ukraine, finalists in 2006, have a squad brimming with UEFA Champions League pedigree and will want to build on the promise of their UEFA European U19 Championship triumph in 2009. It is over two years since Denmark played a competitive match, but given the success of the host nations in recent years – with the Netherlands victorious in 2007 and Sweden getting to the last four in 2009 – with home support, Keld Bordinggaard's side have plenty to look forward to.