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Coaches predict tough last hurdle in U21 race

Netherlands coach Cor Pot spoke for many of his fellow Under-21 coaches, saying "all 14 countries are strong otherwise they wouldn't be here" after the draw for the play-offs was made.

Netherlands coach Cor Pot is wary of the threat posed by play-off opponents Slovakia
Netherlands coach Cor Pot is wary of the threat posed by play-off opponents Slovakia ©

After a tough qualifying round campaign, the 14 teams that make up the UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-offs have one more obstacle to hurdle – yet for many of the coaches involved, this last challenge will be their side's hardest.

Winning your qualifying group (or indeed being one of the four best runners-up) is not enough to make the finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship: every team, bar hosts Israel, must take part in the play-offs. For holders Spain, that means a tie against the country that staged the last championship, Denmark. Julen Lopetegui has replaced Luis Milla at the Spain helm, and said: "I am certain Denmark are a battle-hardened side, a well-organised team who have talented players."

For the draw, the 14 nations were split into two pots based on their coefficients, and three of the ties that came out pitted group winners against one another. Sweden coach Hakan Ericson, whose side will play Italy, said: "Any team from Pot A would have been very difficult. We met Italy in a friendly in 2011. We were two steps behind them and our target two years down the line was to eventually match them. Now it's up to us to show them."

The ties will take place on 12 and 16 October and the draw also determined who would have home advantage first. The Netherlands were paired with fellow group winners Slovakia, and Jong Oranje coach Cor Pot said: "I am happy that the first leg is away, which is something I prefer. I don't know anything about Slovakia so we will have to watch the tapes. All 14 countries are strong otherwise they wouldn't be here."

His Slovakia counterpart Ivan Galád added: "The Netherlands are definitely favourites, they are a top team, but we will give it our all. I spoke to the French coach about our game and he gave me some tips about the Netherlands. I am so happy to play them. I have a lot of friends from there and have had some great experiences."

Tournament runners-up in 2011, Switzerland take on 2009 champions Germany in a battle of teams traditionally strong at this level. The Swiss finished behind Spain in their group, and coach Pierluigi Tami said: "We qualified even if we had one of the best teams in Europe in our group. That means we should be proud and also have confidence for what is to come.

"Now we're going to play another big team over two legs, but I think we've improved during qualifying," continued Tami, whose side must tackle Rainer Adrion's outfit; a team that dropped just two points in qualifying. "Germany v Switzerland is of course a special game. In recent years the Swiss have done very well at junior level, they were in the final of the last EURO, so it's a very difficult draw for us," Adrion said.

Full play-off lineup

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