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U21 hopefuls set out on road to Czech Republic

The long road to the 2015 finals in the Czech Republic begins this week as Wales host Moldova in Friday's curtain-raiser while Russia aim to impress again, starting in Andorra.

Wales kick-off the 2015 preliminaries against Moldova on Friday
Wales kick-off the 2015 preliminaries against Moldova on Friday ©FAW

The 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship finalists are less than three months away from a summer tournament in Israel, but some teams have already moved on and are looking ahead to the Czech Republic.

The long road to the 2015 finals begins on Friday as Wales welcome Moldova to The Racecourse Ground for their Group 1 curtain-raiser. The Moldovans did not enjoy the best of qualifying campaigns last time out, but will take heart before this match. In Wales's failed bid to reach Israel, Geraint Williams's troupe managed just two wins in four games on their own turf, including defeats by Czech Republic and Armenia. They also scored three goals fewer than Friday's opponents.

While many sides involved in these opening encounters are seeking an improvement, Russia are hoping for a repeat display as they chase a ticket to the Czech Republic. Nikolai Pisarev guided the Russians into their maiden finals, topping Group 6 after losing only once and conceding a miserly five goals in eight fixtures. On Tuesday they visit Andorra, who finished 2013 qualifying point-less and with a goal difference of minus 30.

Elsewhere, 2007 semi-finalists Belgium entertain Cyprus, who will be looking to build on some promising performances in what was a tough 2013 preliminary section. The Cypriots will be no pushovers, as four countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, discovered to their cost in the last campaign.

Paired together again, Scotland welcome a Luxembourg team hunting revenge after losing twice to Billy Stark's outfit in 2013 qualification, shipping eight goals in the process. Iceland, meanwhile, launch their attempt at Belarus, who showed they were no slouches last time out by holding Bosnia and winning in both Greece and Cyprus.

The summer brings a wealth of group stage matches, while a host of big names, including France, Portugal, and 2011 runners-up Switzerland, will be eager to make a good start when they get under way in September.