Final chance to tinker for Israel contenders

The coaches of the eight finalists have a last chance to assess the claims of those hoping to take part at this summer's Under-21 tournament in a series of March friendlies.

Guy Luzon will see how far his Israel team has progressed when they play Netherlands and Germany
Guy Luzon will see how far his Israel team has progressed when they play Netherlands and Germany ©IFA

With the finals less than three months away, the participating teams have a vital window of preparation over the next few days as they finalise plans for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

The very nature of this level of the game means that new players can burst onto the scene from seemingly nowhere. A good run in club football can catapult those who were perhaps not in the thinking of the national team coaches – or were maybe earmarked for the 2013–15 edition due to their youth – into the final squad or even help them nail down a starting berth.

Most sides heading to Israel this summer are playing two games in this international break with England manager Stuart Pearce, for example, calling up 28 players – a number he will have to cut by five in due course. "These games against Romania and Austria are our last before I have to name my 23-man squad for June," said Pearce. While England have opted to play teams not travelling to Israel, the other finalists have taken a different approach.

The hosts have been on a diet of friendlies for over two years now. With that long preparation period almost complete, their forthcoming games against the Netherlands and Germany – in Petah Tivka and Tel Aviv respectively – should offer them an accurate gauge of how far they have come under Guy Luzon's stewardship. It is also an opportunity for the visitors to get a feel for some of the venues that will hold finals games.

Like Israel, Norway are only taking part in their second finals and also like the hosts, they are playing a couple of games against sides in the opposing group at the tournament. The only March fixture that will be repeated in June is the Spain v Russia game in Alcorcon, with those sides having the chance to lay down a marker before the real business gets under way this summer.

March Under-21 friendlies
England v Romania, 21 March (Wycombe)
Israel v Netherlands, 21 March (Petah Tivka)
Spain v Norway, 21 March (Toledo)
Italy v Russia, 22 March (Cittadella)
Israel v Germany, 24 March (Tel Aviv)
Netherlands v Norway, 25 March (Waalwijk)
Spain v Russia, 25 March (Alcorcon)
England v Austria, 25 March (Brighton)