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Key ties set to shape Under-21 qualifying

After more than three months away, Under-21 qualifying resumes on Wednesday with a host of potentially defining fixtures. UEFA.com picks out five of the most eye-catching ties.

Greece will leapfrog Turkey into second spot in Group 7 with victory on Wednesday
Greece will leapfrog Turkey into second spot in Group 7 with victory on Wednesday ©Intime

Greece v Turkey (15.30)
While a 3-1 loss to Group 7 leaders Poland in mid-November meant a drop in the standings, Greece still have hopes of the play-offs, with coach Kostas Tsanas having a full squad to choose from going into this encounter. Tsanas urged his side to be "competitive and very disciplined tactically" against the side second in the section, adding: "Against Poland, the team put in a big effort to turn the tie around; even though they didn't manage it, they proved we have a strong side. There are three matches left and we need wins to qualify."

Turkey, meanwhile, still have top spot in their sights; they are five points adrift of Poland with two games in hand, but are also aware that their hosts are breathing down their neck. Coach Abdullah Ercan has been able to call on some players with senior team experience – Salih Uçan, Oğuzhan Özyakup, Uğur Çiftçi and Aytaç Kara. "The atmosphere in the team is good ahead of a very important match for both sides," said Ercan. "Sadly, Hakan Çalhanoğlu is injured."

Republic of Ireland v Montenegro (16.00)
Ireland coach Noel King admits his side's hopes of qualifying rest on this game. Ireland have beaten the Faroe Islands home and away but with just two points gained from their other four games, anything less than victory here will see them lose out. "We have to win," said King. "If we can beat Montenegro in Dublin we will keep qualification alive, but if we don't win it's over for us." Derby County FC midfielder Jeff Hendrick, who has been capped four times at senior level, returns to the U21 squad.

With a game in hand, Montenegro have a chance to take a firm grip on second place. While the sides drew 0-0 in Podgorica in November, coach Dušan Vlaisavljević hopes for better in the return. "We will play attacking football because we want three points," he said. Aleksandar Boljević, Montenegro's 18-year-old Jong PSV forward, is suspended, but Vlaisavljević knows he has talent to spare: "We have a lot of technically gifted players and if we control the game in midfield, we have a realistic chance of a vital win."

Belgium v Serbia (18.00)
Belgium started like a train in Group 9, winning their first four games. However, they have since lost 1-0 at home to Italy and drawn 2-2 in Serbia. That means they are just three points ahead of their visitors having played a game more. Jonge Duivels coach Johan Walem will be buoyed by the inclusion of R. Standard de Liège striker Michy Batshuayi, top scorer in the Belgian First League but allowed by senior Belgium coach Marc Wilmots to assist the U21s. "Michy is a great player and is having a great season with Standard," said Wilmots. "However, now the U21s can make good use of him against Serbia."

Without SL Benfica forward Lazar Marković (suspension) and Manchester City FC defender Matija Nastasić (knee injury), Serbia must call on their resources if they are to get the win which would take them level with Belgium. "Marković and Nastasić mean a lot, not only on the pitch but in the dressing room and in training," rued coach Radovan Ćurčić, who has called up OFK Beograd winger Aleksandar Čavrić for the first time. "We expect two hard away matches now, in Belgium and then Italy, and we simply need one victory. I am an optimist and believe in our team."

Austria celebrate against Hungary
Austria celebrate against Hungary©UEFA.com

Austria v Albania (18.15)
The most telling compliment to be paid to Austria is that they still harbour hopes of catching holders Spain, who have a perfect record from their first six qualifiers. Though Werner Gregoritsch's team can go within three points of the Group 4 summit if they win this, their game in hand, the runners-up berth remains the priority. "If we win our home matches against Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we will be in the play-offs," said Gregoritsch, who is without the suspended Louis Schaub.

Albania look destined for bottom spot in the section, but coach Skënder Gega is desperate to end on a high and bid a fitting farewell to many of his current crop, including Valentin Gjokaj, Elvis Prençi, Idriz Batha, Gjelbrim Taipi, Vasil Shkurtaj, Arbnor Fejzullahu and Herolind Shala. "A positive result would be a great thank you to all of them," said Gega. "We have used a relatively young group of players during the qualifiers and will continue to follow the same strategy – playing with prospective players for the future."

England v Wales (19.00)
Buoyant after a record 9-0 win against San Marino last time out, England are three points clear atop Group 1, six ahead of Wales. Though Gareth Southgate has lost Liverpool FC winger Raheem Sterling and Southampton FC defender Luke Shaw to the seniors, he remains keen to keep his side on an upward curve. "We want to keep that going as a group," he said. "We've spoken about being the best we can be, not just by winning matches, but every day in training when we have to set our standards high."

Geraint Williams's Wales, meanwhile, come into the game on the back of a run of three games without defeat, in which they have scored six without reply and claimed seven points. They will be without City midfielder Emyr Huws following his elevation to the seniors, but Cardiff City FC defender Declan John is in line for his first U21 cap. Manchester United FC youngster Thomas Lawrence is Wales' leading scorer in the group with three goals and is expected to lead the line again. "This is a great game for our lads to play in," said Williams. "It should be a big crowd, at a great stadium and against a class opposition."

All times CET

Full U21s fixture list.