English based players: None. Two keepers and a midfielder play abroad.
Qualifying: Drawn in group 5 in Israel, Serbia got off to a slow start with a 0-0 draw against Lithuania, unable to beat Barnsley keeper Lukas Lidakevičius and the Lithuanian captain. With Israel close to going through, having beaten the Czech's in ther opener, it was 0-0 at half time between the hosts and Serbia. Then in the 48th minute, Aleksandar Mitrović beat Barak Levy to give Serbia a fighting chance going into the final game. Once again it was 0-0 at half time but on the 52nd minute, the Czech's scored. Filip Pajović's run of cleansheets ended by Plzeň forward Michael Krmenčik, a minute later Filip Stojković was booked for dissent and on the 72nd minute, would be sent off. With Serbia, down to ten men, unable to beat Zbrojovka Brno keeper Vlastimil Veselý (2010), they were relying on Lithuania holding Israel. Israel were leading 2-1 with the seeming Shahar Hirsh (Hapoel midfielder) winner, against sub keeper Rimas Bogužas (Banga Gargždai) coming three minutes from time but an injury time corner from Ekranas sub Dovydas Norvilas was converted by U21 defender Martynas Jefišovas. 2-2 between Israel and Lithuania: Serbia went through in second place though Israel would get one of the best third place finishes so advanced anyway.
Serbia were to host elite group 8 but had problems: injuries to Fiorentina centreback Matija Nastasić and FK Partizan striker Lazar Marković ruled out any chance of them dropping down into the squad, combined with mixed form. A understrength side went to Poland and lost all three games, 2-3 to the hosts, France won 0-2 and Georgia won 2-3. A 3-0 victory over Luxembourg and a 5-1 thrashing of third division club FK Senta at least got some form going. As Marić tried to turn home-crowd pressure to the team's advantage, they started against a nine-game unbeaten Germany side who had been hit by problems of their own: Julian Draxler had been called up to the preliminary Euro 2012 squad (which makes me question the wisdom of taking the guy even more given he had crunch games), attacking midfielders Sonny Kittel (Frankfurt) and captain Leonardo Bittencourt (Energie Cottbus, Brazil) were injured. Serbia were the only team to score in the first half: Nikola Aksentijević beating Patrick Rakovsky (Nuremberg keeper) in the 20th minute. Two minutes after the restart, Germany's number 9 Philipp Hofmann (Schalke striker) equalized but Mitrović put Serbia back in front on the hour mark, three minutes after being brought on. Six minutes before the end, Germany equalized through Hertha left-winger Nico Schulz. 2-2, the result that sent Serbia to this round but which importance in this round, only time would tell.
Hungary's decent form had been ended with a crushing 4-0 defeat to Romania but Hungary were more stubborn this time, holding out till the last four minutes when Dávid Dombó was beaten by Ninković. Germany's 4-0 thrashing of Hungary on the last day meant Serbia and on-form Romania both needed a win to top the group, else Germany would advance. Within twelve minutes, centreback Adrian Puţanu (Viitorul Constanța) was sent off after fouling Ninković in the area but the Partizan midfielder's penalty was saved by keeper/captain Alexandru Buzbuchi (U21 call up, Viitorul Constanța). On the 32nd minute mark, left-winger Bogdan Vătăjelu (Râmnicu Vâlcea) was brought on with the score at 0-0 but was sent off within seven minutes for a foul on Stefan Dimić, Paritzan striker Mitrović putting them 1-0 up. The hosts were 2-0 up at half time when Ninković scored from a freekick. Romania's ill-discipline haunted them once last time, central midfielder Alin Roman (Maramureș Universitar Baia Mare) sent off for deliberate hand-ball in the 77th minute, third of the match and 4th red card in three games, and after much protest by Romania Mitrović converted again.
Squad Zoran Marić was a striker for Yugoslavia, only gaining two caps, but a star for Voyvodina then went to Celta Vigo and helped get SD Compostela promoted to the top flight of Spain. As a manager, he had a brief spell at Compostela, Vojvodina (twice) and Borac Banja Luka. He only tends to stay at a club like Vojvodina for a year so will be intresting to see if he stays after this tournament. His striker son Goran Marić was at Norwich for a brief spell and now is Kazakhstan for Zhetysu. Got one or two from the U17 2011 side but they finished bottom of their group with only a point.
Two foreign based keepers: ever present Filip Pajović plays in Hungary for Videoton's first team, having left Vojvodina on a free in 2010. Do wonder why Hungary over Serbia unless he felt more likely to get first team football. Elite round deputy Miroslav Grujičić of domestic side BSK Borča. No room for Ivan Pavlović who was qualifying found keeper. In defense, two players from Red Star Belgrade/Crvena zvezda: centreback Uroš Spajić missed the Hungary game but has played for Crvena zvezda and regularly for Sopot, rightback Filip Stojković (key man) has played for Crvena zvezda and was suspended for Germany game. The ever present in the defense is Nemanja Radoja of Vojvodina, the centreback can play in midfield and got first team expirence on loan at Cement Beočin. The other option never made it off the bench: centreback Lazar Rosić of Radnički 1923 was unused in elite round.. No room for qualifying unused sub Stefan Rudič, a centreback from Red Star. The coach wanted to take Partizan rightback Nikola Aksentijević, who was converted from midfield to the backline by Vuk Rašović when on loan to Teleoptik, has experience for both clubs and likes to get crosses in though can be weak in the air. Unfortunately he picked up a convenient injury/club refused to let him go.
In midfield, one possible tournament defender: Serbia's site counts Crvena Zvezda Srdan Mijailović (key man), the team captain, as a defender but he is Crvena zvezda's main holding player and has made his full international debut. Been in and out of the side, given the defensive reshuffle needed I suspect he will drop into the backline. One foreign based player is Đorđe Radovanović who trains in Portugal for C.D. Nacional, used as an elite round sub. Vojvodina provide an ever present: playmaker Marko Poletanović (key man) did well on loan at Cement Beočin and now plays regularly for Vojvodina. Rad's right-winger Stefan Dimić is the other ever present in midfield, on the other flank Partizan's 17 year old Nikola Ninković (2011 U17, involved in some of their best moments, key man) got two goals in three elite games, likes to play as the playmaker but used as winger by Serbia. Got club expedience and is a goal threat though he admits his temper and his defensive discipline are lacking. Saša Ivković of Teleoptik has first team experience for his club but tends to be on the bench for this side, central midfielder Marko Pavlovski (missed the 2011 U17 tournament) of OFK Beograd has first team experience and was a qualifying round sub, holding midfielder Ivan Petrović of Radnički 1923 has club experience and started the elite round games, surprise choice in holding midfielder Boris Varga of Hajduk Kula. No room for Uroš Nikolić, the attacking midfielder from Videoton was a qualifying starter. Up front, Partizan oprovide the main scoring hope: 17 year old Aleksandar Mitrović (key man) has just been signed by Partizan from Teleoptik, he was an ever present in qualifying and top scored for Serbia with four goals. The other ever present Aleksandar Čavrić of Banat Zrenjanin where he has first team experience, didn't score in qualifying but was mostly used from the bench, can play on the right. Uroš Đurđević played in all the elite games and has club experience, the Rad striker started as number 9 against Germany and came on at half time against Romania. No room for qualifying starter Ivan Dragićević or for Nikola Djordjević who get half an hour against Lithuania, both play for Red Star. Coach wanted to take the speedy dribbler Lazar Marković (2011 U17 tournament, flickered in and out) but he is (honestly) injured. A few scouts may be disappointed given who he has been linked with but since he lays for his club and has been capped by U21's+the seniors, they will have other opportunities.
Overall: Marić saw a lot to be encouraged about in elite round but has pointed out he may be hit by withdrawals due to CL and Europe league qualifying ties. If they can keep their entire squad, he will aim for the semi finals and thus their first ever U20 world cup. He has talked of reaching so far when so many big name teams have been knocked out as an achievement in itself, of what a big test this is and how this will teach the entire squad, as well as him, so much.
Poor qualifying round and poor friendlies results leave a lot for concern. A strong defensive record with four cleansheets out of six though some concern against the best attacks due to conceding twice against Germany and goals against big teams in friendlies. They will need the defense to prove they can handle the best to have any chance, I would suggest concern at the lack of specialist leftback which means a centreback goes across or one of their rightbacks goes to the left, and they have moved Mijailović at the heart of the defense but their combinations have worked so far. The loss of Aksentijević is a huge blow. There are signs the attack has found form after a dire qualifying round: one goal in first three games, six in the elite round though three were from Romania's poor discipline. I do wonder how much being at home in elite round helped Serbia get through but they can change their system and have club experience. After getting to the semi's in the last two tournaments, I suspect Serbia will fail to make it three semi's in a row.
England based players: None though with Pogba going to Juventus.
How they qualified: A bye for qualifying round, they were drawn in elite group 1 in the Czech Republic. Which gave less time for new coach, promoted from the U18's, Pierre Mankowski to work with the team and their form was dreadful: after a decent Tournoi de Limoges, they had one win in five, against an understrength Serbia, including a 3-0 defeat to Georgia. Dropping top scorer Anthony Koura (2010, Le Mans striker) was a surprise choice, leaving Jean-Christophe Bahebeck as top scorer with two and they started against an on-form Czech side who had beaten England and drawn with Germany. The hosts drew first blood against a timid France, Milan Lutonský (Zbrojovka Brno midfielder) beating Jonathan Millieras in the 18th minute after picking up a loose ball. Mankowski got the team playing their usual ways in the second half and within three minutes of the restart, Thibaut Vion's long pass allowed Jean-Christophe Bahebeck to break clear of his man before beating Genoa keeper Lukáš Zima (2011 U17) in a 1v1. Ten minutes later, a loose Czech pass allowed Porto's Vion to run down the right and fire home from the edge of the box. The Czech's remained dangerous but failed to equalise. Against Norway, who had reached their goal of getting to the elite round, France started better and took the lead after half an hour, Dimitri Foulquier crossed from the right and Bahebeck volleyed into the roof of Kristian Bjerke's net. Norway struck back within six minutes, El-Hadji Ba fouled Norway playmaker Etzaz Hussain (Fredrikstad), Ole Selnæs (Rosenberg central midfielder) curled in the freekick and Rangers centreback Kim E. Skogsrud lobbed the keeper Millieras. Two minutes before half time Axel Ngando hit the woodwork but France performed even better in the second half with half time sub Alexy Bosetti to the fore. First Bosetti converted a 67th minute penalty after Skogsrud fouled Ba then the Nizza winger headed home a 71st minute freekick. Norway responded strongly but France held out.
Two wins but now against their fellow six pointers: the Netherlands but the Dutch, using a lot of their victorious U17 2011 side, had superior goal difference of one so France had to win. Within five minutes, any Dutch plan to play for a draw was out of the window, Geoffrey Kondogbia playing a one-two with Bosetti before beating AZ keeper Hobie Verhulst. The keeper then did well to tip a Vincent Distefano header over from a 16th minute Bahebeck corner and by the 20th minute, the Dutch made their first substitution. Three minutes later, Bosetti was brought down by PSG holding midfielder Ilan Boccara (France) who was booked and then could only watch as Lucas Digne fired home from the freekick. On the 25th, Kondogbia was fouled by Boccara who was given his marching orders and thinks looked dire for the Dutch. Hope must have been fanned when Distefano fouled the number 9 Jurgen Locadia (Curacao) inside the box but the PSV striker was denied by Millieras. The second half would be an onslaught thanks to three goals in 5 minutes: Kondogbia setting up Bahebeck in the 56th, Alassane Plea setting up Bosetti in the 58th, Paul Pogba seizing on a poor clerance just after the hour mark. Six minutes before the end, sub N’Gando and Plea set up sub Vion to make it 6-0. Only Portugal would better France's goal difference of +9.
Squad: Pierre Mankowski was a former playermaker for the likes of Lens before ending it as player-manager of Caen. Managing several clubs like Lille, bfore becoming assistant manager for Cameroon and France under Jacques Santini and Raymond Domenech. Returns to French youth sides after 2010 having served in similar roles between 2000 and 2002. Assisted by former defender Gilles Eyquem, who played and managed Cherbourg. Some from the 2010 U17 Euro side that got to the semi's.
In goal, ever present Jonathan Millieras of Châteauroux seems the likely starter, his challenger is PSG's highly rated Alphonse Aréola (2010, Philippines) who missed the elite round. Was speculation a year ago that he would transfer his allegiance so wondering if that explains his absence and he might get back his number 1 shirt. No room for Paul Charruau, the Valenciennes keeper was the elite round deputy. Defence has three ever presents: centreback Samuel Umtiti (2010, Cameroon) who has started to break into the Lyon team, can play leftback but that should be covered by Lille's Lucas Digne (2010, key man), the latter can be pushed upfield if France want. Rennes have turned Dimitri Foulquier (Guadeloupe) into a rightback, so usual loves to get forward but can still be a little suspect at the back, he is emerging for his club side. Vincent Distefano of Montpellier came in after the first elite game, Jérôme Phojo of Monaco, both with club experience, never made it off the bench but both are apparently rightbacks which seems unbalanced? Be intresting to see who plays in the centre, Foulquier or Distefano. PSG centreback Richard-Quentin Samnick (Cameroon) is a surprise choice, though has club experience, but perhaps only got in due to injury to centreback Lionel Zouma (Central African Republic) of Sochaux-Montbéliard who started against the Czechs.
The midfield is captained by Juventus new addition: powerful but skilled Paul Pogba (Guinea, 2010, key man), one of their stars in 2010 though been quieter in qualifying where he was an ever present. Two other ever presents: holding midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia was benched for game against Norway but has quite a few games for Lens. Can play in defence at leftback or in the centre, is younger brother to Central African Republic international Evans Kondogbia so can also play for them, been linked with Juventus and Newcastle. Holding midfielder El-Hadji Ba (Senegal) has made his debut for Lens but mostly been used from the bench so far, likely to be Jordan Veretout instead, got over thirty games for Nantes last season. Pogba's rival Axel Ngando was the team's number 10 but the Rennes player was mostly used on the bench. The nephew of Patrick Mboma, a legend as a Cameroon/PSG/Parma/Sunderland striker and African player of the year in 2000, Nganddo turned down Juventus last year as he felt it was the wrong move for his career but is being linked to a number of clubs. No room for No room for Bastia's Florian Thauvin, an attacking midfielder but could play on the wings, came off the bench twice in elite round. Up front, they have one player training abroad: Thibaut Vion for Porto, the speedy poacher has been prolific for their B team and Metz U19's, as the team's ever present number 9 he has two goals in the elite round but he was used as sub against the Netherlands so may lose his spot. The other attackers taken are all ever presents with the exception of surprise pick Kévin Mayi (Gabon) come on as a sub for Saint-Étienne. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (Cameroon, key man) was a striker but PSG have turned him into a right-footed leftwinger, the set-piece specialist has played quite a few times for his club, scored in each elite game. Right-winger Alexy Bosetti has made a sub appearance for Nice but can play right across the line, he was a bencher but replaced Vion for the starting line up against the Dutch. Alassane Plea (Mali) likes to play as an attacking midfielder but the Lyon man has mostly been used on the flanks by France, likes a long shot. If not for Yaya Sanogo (Ivory Coast, U21, 2010) surgery, the Auxerre striker would be here as well.
Overall: Mankowski has admitted that everyone coming back from holiday's means every time is slightly less prepared then they would like. He has said form and performances have fluctuated but he hopes now he has built a team after constant changing, partly due to club demands on certain players. He consider. his side well-balanced, a good unit, tactically flexible with a few key attacking players who can change a game. Despite being wary of the other teams, he is aiming to win the tournament.
After a poor run of results, a decent elite round was finished with a great signal of intention. Have tended to be stronger in the second half of games and carry a strong threat going forward when even the likes of Ngando can't get into the team and where Vion's place is in doubt. They do leak goals at the back, seems like they have an overload of rightbacks which means someone is sitting in the centre, but Aréola's return could help them there. They also tend to end up under pressure late on and do need to start stronger, this could bite them against the stronger teams here. Lacking tournament experience but a lot of them are playing for clubs, neither injury is too damaging to chances as France strikers are scoring goals anyway and Zouma was a squad player.
Arsenal/Foreign based players: Benik Afobe for us, Eric Dier plays in Portugal for Sporting.
Qualifying: Got a bye for the qualifying round and got to host elite group 2, England were confidence after drawing with the Netherlands (0-0) and France (2-2), England went on a four game unbeaten run and were in one of the, on paper, easier groups. Missing Conor Coady, due to injury, and Luke Garbutt due to play-off final for Cheltenham, England tried to make it straight wins against Slovenia, who were optimistic despite missing Matej Pučko (Luka Koper leftwinger), Matej Palčič (Luka Koper rightwinger) and Edin Čolič (Mairbor holding midfielder) through suspension. Slovenia held England in the first half, allowing England the ball then trying to break from deep. It even created the best chance of the half in the 5th minute: Michael Keane badly misreading a pass and ending up wrong-footed, which allowed Rok Baskera (Simer Šampion) to break clear on the right. Keane got back but Baskera still got a good shot away, captain Sam Johnstone saving with his leg. Three minutes into the second half, Johnstone booted the ball upfield to Eric Dier but his pass was deflected to the advanced Nathaniel Chalobah on the left edge of the area. Cutting inside, the Chelsea defender's shot took a deflection off Baskera and looped over Slovenia's helpless keeper, Mateo Barukčič (Interblock Ljubljana). Slovenia were now forced to push forward and England scored again five minutes later, Ross Barkley fed the dangerous Harry Kane who slipped in a great through-ball for Tom Thorpe. The defender flicked it over the keeper and bundled over the line eventually, despite the best efforts of captain Miha Blazic (Luka Koper centreback). Slovenia kept fighting and only an alert save from Man U's Johnstone denied Luka Kranjc’s (Genoa centreback) 30 yard volley from dipping in but everything fell apart for Slovenia in the last minutes. On the 82nd mark, Kane advanced at an exposed defence before slipping the ball outside Blazic to Will Keane, who calmly slipped the ball across Barukčič and in. Then leftback Erik Janža (Mura 05) was cuaght high up the pitch and unable to get back as Chalobah hit a great ball in for sub Todd Kane to finish across the slow to react keeper with two minutes to go. The injury time finisher was when Benik Afobe burst past two challenges as he cut in from the left, then fed Keane who danced inside Janža before firing through the legs of Barukčič.
So five wins in a row after that 5-0 win, England then faced a Montenegro side who knew they had a strong first 11 after drawing with Italy, Spain and Denmark but a weak second string that got thrashed by the same teams. Montenegro had beaten Switzerland 3-0 in their first elite game so a lot was on the line. England again started with the possession but, against a strong physical defence, no edge and so were at risk of sharp counter-attacks. Afobe had a goal disallowed but it has been a long time since one can barge over a keeper as he did when Danijel Petković (Bokelj) had both hands onto Todd Kane's deflected cross, so no surprise there. On the 25th minute, Jack Robinson lost the ball to captain Marko Vukcevic (Budućnost Podgorica winger), he drove inside and hammered his shot into the near top corner, keeper no chance. A better touch by Patrick Bamford and he would have been 1v1 with Petković, instead Dejan Milošević (Morgen) calmly stepped across to clear. On the other hand, striker Luka Djordjević (Mogren) should have done far better when he was played clear by a great long pass, he had time to take it down but instead sent his volley into orbit. In the second half, Blake made two changes at the break but it was, Montenegro who had the better chances, Miloš Kalezić's (Budućnost Podgorica) long shot just whizzing wide of the near post being the best of them. As England got control of the game again: Chalobah slipped in Keane down the right but he shot rather then crossed, allowing Petković to somewhat unconvincingly bat it away. Chalobah fed sub Jack Dunn on the edge of the area but his shot was weak and easily saved, a short corner routine saw a deep cross find Keane but the Man U attacker volleyed over. Vukcevic danced inside Garbutt to get 1v1 but fired too close to Johnstone but with five minutes later, England equalised: Todd Kane’s long throw-in from the right was flicked on by Dier and Afobe held the ball away from marker Boris Kopitović before firing past Petković from seven yards, the keeper not quite reacting in time.
England just needed a win against the Swiss and bar an unlikely scoreline, would go through. Kick-of would be delayed by 15 minutes so both games kicked off at the same time and for England, the "just need to win" proved rather hard. With Stuart Pearce watching, the Swiss started brightly with Joel Geissmann (2010, Grasshopper central midfielder) putting in some good freekicks, the first dropped by Johnstone, the second the keeper did well to tip over. The possession was reasonably equal but the Swiss were creating more chances, a cross from England's left saw Johnson spill at the feet of number 9 Michael Frey (Young Boys) but the captain recovered brilliantly to turn the rebound aside. Todd Kane tried to see the ball out but instead allowed Mike Kleiber (Zurich leftwinger) to cross to Frey but the striker got under his volley. Five minutes before the break, Dier got forward but the attack broke down only for the Swiss to clear straight to Harry Kane, his long shot from the England left just wide of Yanick Brecher's (Zurich keeper, 2010) near post. Two minutes into the second half, more carless Swiss possession resulted in Harry Kane's long shot which Brecher spilled for his first save of the game.
Two things then happened: Will Keane stretchered off with what would prove to be a bad knee injury, Saido Berahino coming on and news coming through that Slovenia had taken the lead. This would allow the Swiss to go through if they won but England only needed a draw. The Swiss pushed forward, another Geissmann freekick caused problems but Johnstone tipped over Hélios Sessolo (Young boys central midfielder) effort, another Swiss player miskicked six yards from goal. Ross Barekly picked the ball on the right and danced inside before firing just wide. Deep into the five minutes of injury time, sub Dunn calmly played the ball out to Barkley who danced past Geissmann before finding Berahino on the outside of covering holding midfielder Hekuran Kryeziu (Kosovo, Luzern). The WBA sub looked up and spotted Brecher badly positioned, firing low in at the near post and past the rather embarrassed shot-stopper.
Squad: Noel Blake (Jamaica) was a journeyman defender who won promotion to the top flight with Portsmouth and Leeds. Was player-manager of Exeter but left to work with Stoke youth teams before joining the FA and being given the U19's in 2010. Some members of the 2010 winning U17 side are in this squad and the 2011 U19 squad that were outclassed by the Dutch in the semi's.
In goal, Sam Johnstone (2009, 2010, solid but lost place to Butland) was the captain and ever present in the elite round, won the reserve play-off final for Man U with three penalty saves and played for Scunthorpe last season. His deputy will be Boro's Connor Ripley, son of ex-England winger and solicitor Stuart, a French speaker with good kicking, had a dodgy debut for Boro last season but played another game and played for Oxford on loan. One player from abroad: Sporting's Eric Dier, grandson of former FA Secretary Ted Croker, was loaned to Everton last season but the FA have finally picked up on the tall centreback who was an ever present in elite round. Two ever present defenders from Man U: Michael Keane, brother of Will, has transferred his alliegences from the Republic of Ireland. The club's reserve player of the year can play at fullback but has established himself for his country, as an ever present, in his new position at centreback. Tom Thorpe (2010) was considered a cultured centreback but has started to be used in midfield as a holding player. The other defenders are two leftbacks: the versatile Everton leftback Luke Garbutt (2009, 2010, good attacking but questions defensivly) was playing for Cheltnam in elite round, will be very intresting to see if he or Liverpool's youngest ever player Jack Robinson (you may remember him from marking out Walcott awhile back) who was ever present leftback in elite round. He missed on the 2010 win due to exams. No room for ever-present attacking rightback Todd Kane from Chelsea, no room for leftback Jake Bidwell, Everton's youngest player in Europe, who played for Brentford last season and against Montenegro in elite round.
In midfield, two Everton men: ever present Ross Barkley (2010, U21) who has gained such plaudits, proving a little spark in elite round, and touch tackling John Lundstram (key man) who was in uefa's best squad of 22 for last year's U17 tournament. Tended to be used on the right despite being a left-footed central midfielder. Two ever present in midfield but West Brom's central midfielder George Thorne (2010) was mostly used from the bench, played for West Brom and Portsmouth. The other is Spurs Harry Kane, used as a forward by Spurs and Millwall, where he won young player of the year, but used as an attacking midfielder, the number 10, by Blake. Missed the 2010 tournament with injury. Chelsea's centreback/holding player Nathaniel Chalobah (Sierra Leone) is a uefa key man, played in the 2010 team as a 15 year old who excelled, dipped a bit in 2011 and been used in both midfield and defend this camapign. Still only 17 and a real play to watch. Midfield may be strengthened return of two who missed elite round by Liverpool's holding midfielder Conor Coady (2010 captain), a leader though some doubt his technique, and Birmingham's young player of the year: winger Nathan Redmond (2011). No room for Liverpool left-winger Jack Dunn who was a sub in elite round. Up front, Benik Afobe (2009, 2010 where he played well) was an ever present and our striker, who played for Reading last season, wore the number 9 shirt. Saido Berahino (Burundi, 2010, scored wonder-goal against Turkey) has had a mixed season, recalled from Brentford for "personal reasons" after a twitter outburst, but the man can magic something up. Two strikers that played no part in qualifying: West Ham's Robert Hall (2010) played for MK Dons this season and Everton's uncapped, at this level, Hallam Hope (Trinidad and Tobago, 2011 U17's where he looked dangerous), be intresting to see how he is doing if he gets the chance. Injury ruled out ever present and top scorer Will Keane (2010, U21) of Man U, ditto Chelsea striker/left-winger Patrick Bamford who started against Montenegro.
Overall: Blake's first target now they got here is the world cup spots, he feels he can reassess their goals if they get further but he does know that winning the tournament would mean the first time a squad has won the U17 and U19 Euro's. Confident in his players and their tournament expirence but knows his side have tough games ahead.
A strong run, though Montenegro were close to ending it, but one that is faltering as Montenegro and the Swiss came close to ending it. They do create good chances and get the goals, they are a spirited side who will keep going. A habit of controlling possession but lacking an edge in first half then creating more in second half is a concern, they need to start strongly in these games. They also lack wingers, only Redmond really counts as one so the likes of Thorn, Lundstram and Barkley have been used wide and, with William Keane injured, nobody with more then one goal in elite round so someone needs to step up. While on paper England are strong defensively, one goal conceded in the elite round, England do look suspect to teams capable of playing a good counter-attack, long balls over their high line and when defending in numbers, they drop deep and allow long shots to come in. No natural rightback might also be a problem if the opposition has a good left-winger. I also worry about squad cohesion due to injuries meaning a shuffling of the pack for the elite round then the finals, only three competitive games puts England at a disadvantage. As ever with England, always a question of how good are we against the stronger teams, do we have the vision and creativity to create, can we keep the ball well enough? Last two matches suggests we won't.
English based players: None though some play/train abroad like Simon Sluga will do in Italy and Antonio Mirko Čolak in Germany.
Qualifying: Drawn group 11, hosted by the Netherlands, Croatia started against a fancied Finland side, within five minutes both sides had scored. In the third minute Ivan Aleksić was denied by Juhani Pennanen (AC Oulu keeper), who would lose his place to Ville Kauppinen (Haka keeper) after this game, and Marko Livaja pounced on the rebound to give Croatia the lead. Honka centreback Dani Hatakka came up for a Nikolai Alho (HJK Helsinki attacker) corner and equalized. Ante Rebić restored Croatia's lead in the 11th minute but Alho was brought down by Mateo Kovačić three minutes later, Finland captain Tim Väyrynen stepped up but missed from the spot. Livaja made it 3-1 on the 36th minute after a series of Kovačić corners but just before half time, Honka's number 10 Väyrynen beat Zagreb keeper Oliver Zelenika to make it 3-2. Finland made a double change at half time and pushed for an equalizer but ended up conceding a fourth deep into injury time through late sub Antonio Mirko Čolak sending last minute sub Danijel Miškić clear to score.
Croatia made mass changes against Moldova, including bringing in Simon Sluga in goal. In the 24th minute, Nuremberg striker Čolak was denied by Dorian Railean (Sfîntul Gheorghe) keeper only for Mario Jelavić to get the first goal of his hatrick, getting his second only three minutes later as he diverted a Kovačić effort following a Marko Livaja corner. Moldova held out for rest of the half but five minutes after the restart, Čolak set up Hajduk Split striker Jelavić before Čolak made it four in the 79th minute. Already through, the Dutch game was meaningless for both teams so Croatia made changes and it would be a 0-0, notable for Dutch captain Robin Pröpper sent off with twenty minutes left for his foul on Čolak. The De Graafschap centreback would not return for the elite round.
Croatia were hosts for elite group six and were considered favorites. Their pre-elite form was hampered by club withdrawals but won a tournament in Umag, beating Turkey 3-0 and drawing 2-2 against Slovakia before losing 3-0...to Croatia U18's. Croatia opened up against Austria side that was well prepared, had a strong defensive record but were missing star striker Marcel Sabitzer, the Admira Wacker player called up for the senior national side to make his debut. Croatia started strongly and in the 8th minute, took the lead: Marko Dugandžić beating Werder Bremen's new keeper Richard Strebinger with a freekick. Croatia still had the lead at half time but Austria had been fighting their way back into the tie and equalized three minutes after the restart: PSV's Marcel Ritzmaier (central midfielder) crossed for the number 9 Toni Vastic (Bayern Munich attacker) to equalize past Zelenika. With fifteen minutes to go, Austria took the lead: Red Bulls holding midfielder Robert Völkl (Germany) setting up left-winger Thomas Murg (Austria Wien) to strike from distance. Five minutes later though, Croatia were given a boost when rightback Stefan Petrovic (Hertha BSC, Serbia) was sent off for a foul on sub Hrvoje Miličević. In the last minute, Croatia took advantage with a corner from Kovačić converted by number 9 Dugandžić.
Up against a Georgia side still finding their feet after Giorgi Devdariani left for FC Dinamo Tbilisi after the qualifying round, Otar Korgalidze had come in, changed the system and called up some of the 2012 U17 team. Georgia may have beaten Bosnia 4-2 but Croatia would win fairly comfortably: Marko Pajač getting the opener in the 25th minute, beating U21 keeper Davit Legashvili (Sasco) with a left-foot strike. The scorer turned providers in the 58th minute, the new Lokomotiv Moscow player floating in a freekick for Osijek striker Dugandžić to head home. RNK Split striker Rebić made it 3-0 in the 67th, Georgia grabbing a last minute consolation, 2012 centreback Giorgi Gagnidze (Lokomotivi Tbilisi) beating Sluga from distance. Events on the final day would leave Georgia looking at the Croatia vs Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had struggled in the elite round, game hoping for an upset that wouldn't come. Bosnia would lose central midfielder Zvonimir Kožulj (Croatia, Široki Brijeg) to injury within twenty minutes and be behind only five minutes later: Inter striker Livaja setting up Rebić to beat Lucko Zagreb keeper Kristijan Jajalo (Croatia) with a right-foot shot. Scorer turned provider in the 72nd minute with Rebić setting up Čolak to score, Croatia able to hold on to the two goal advantage despite going down to ten men with seven minutes left: captain Filip Mrzljak sent off for a foul on number 10 Sanjin Prcić (France) of Sochaux.
Squad: Dinko Jeličić may just be a man to watch, either in youth football or if he ever attempts to step up to senior level. First job was with the Špansko's U15 team in 2005 and lead his side to a 6-4 victory against Sweden's BK Häcken in the final of the Gothia Cup youth tournament. Three years later he joined GNK Dinamo Zagreb youth teams and won three successive titles before impressing at Radnik Sesvete. This is his first season with a Croatian international youth side, doing very well to get this far but he may found this round more difficult as injuries and withdrawals have hit. With the Croatian FA website yet to recover from being hacked, not entirely sure this provisional squad is accurate but will have to be cut down from 20 to 18 anyway.
With both keepers having played three games each, it is hard to quite tell who will start but Simon Sluga, now having left HNK Rijeka for Juventus after the transfer got held up, got the last two elite games. Dinamo Zagreb's Oliver Zelenika will probably be deputy. In defense, three players were loaned to Radnik Sesvete last season: ever-present Josip Čalušić from Lokomotiva Zagreb, the other two from Dynamo Zagreb. Filip Mrzljak is the captain but was suspended for first elite game and will be suspended for at least one game here, may be asked to be the holding midfielder rather then centreback, rightback Toni Gorupec was injured for the Bosnia game and can play on the wing. Ivan Aleksić from Osijek is the first choice leftback and played all but the Moldova game, centreback Matej Mitrović (U20) of Cibalia played in all the elite round games, rightback Mato Miloš of Rijeka started the last game but would assume Gorupec will return. No room for qualfying round starter centreback Niko Datković (U20) of Rijeka though if he was available that might be another matter, no room for Tin Jedvaj of Dinamo Zagreb, got ten minutes against Georgia, but he is only 16 and his time may yet come.
In midfield, three players from Osijek, none of them played a part in qualifying: left-winger Mihael Pongracic, Josip Mišić and Dino Peric. Rijeka's two players are more experienced: holding midfielder Ivan Močinić (key man) has been in and out of the side, he can also play up front, and another surprise choice in Toni Datkovic (key man), he comes from a football family. One ever present in Radnik Sesvete's Danijel Miškić, was a sub in qualifying round but started all the elite games. Marko Pajac missed the Moldova game otherwise would have been an ever present, played first team football for Varaždin but went to Lokomotiva Zagreb this summer when his club was expelled. Holding midfielder Hrvoje Miličević (Bosnia) of Zrnjski Mostar was an elite round sub used to close games down. Dinamo Zagreb have refused to release uefa key man and the team's number 10 Mateo Kovačić (U21, Austria, Bosnia), the playmaker is the league's youngest debut/scorer and the second youngest CL scorer. Apparently his contract is running out which may give further reason for the club not wanting him shining in this tournament. Hajduk Split holding midfielder Josip Radošević only played against Moldova and isn't in squad, I have heard the club are refusing to release their players. Dario Čanađija was a qualifying round starter but no room for the Slaven Belupo starter, he may be injured. Up front, one ever present in Antonio Mirko Čolak (Germany, U20) but the Nuremberg forward was mostly a sub. One uefa key man in Ante Rebić (U20) with three goals in four games, got a fair few games for RNK Split, his likely partner will be Marko Dugandžić (Osijek) with three goals in two games. Dinamo Zagreb's Domagoj Pavicic is a surprise choice. No room for qualifying sub Dino Špehar, son of Croatia/Sporting/Monaco striker Robert, of Dinamo Zagreb though he has first team experience with Osijek. Inter striker/right-winger Marko Livaja is absent, could be injured but wouldn't be the first time Inter have refused to release a player, Hajduk Split striker Mario Jelavić played part in qualifying rounds but not elite rounds.
Possible line up:
Overall: Jeličić is aiming to cause a surprise but his minimum is a world cup spot, however he believes his side have the quality to go further. Considers France to be the group favorites but that all the teams are strong and says being underdog will ensure extra motivation. Admitted his side have lacked time together, follows Bilic's belief in very flexible formations and denied the withdrawals will cost them, though he admits they are weaker for the absences.
Jeličić has done a fantastic job and I do worry that he, and his team, have not been given a fair chance here due to the club sides. It has pretty much decimated their midfield so real lack of expirence in depth there, any injuries will hit and worry that Croatia's dangerous forwards will not get the service. Missing their normal corner takers which cuts one fruitful avenue. Defense has tightened up of late with Sluga in goal, they will need that since their usual attacking style may be weaker so cleansheets will be more important. This only their second tournament since 2000, getting here in 2010 and getting to the semi's and given the U17's have got to the finals since 2005, there is a lack of tournament expirence in the squad.
Betinho top scored with 8 and top assisted with four but there were some players that provided or scored a lot themselves but teams didn't make it through. Philipp Hofmann of Germany and Schalke gets six goals in six, Greece's Diamantakos was joined on five by Cyprus U21 Pieros Sotiriou (Olympiakos Nicosia) in five games, Romania's Cristian Gavra (Viitorul Constanța) got four of his goals in first three games. Portugal's Cafú, who got all four in first two games, and Serbia's Mitrović are joined on four goals by: Hertha and Germany winger Nico Schulz, Georgia's number 10 Giorgi Chanturia (U21) of Vitesse, Hovhannes Hovhannisyan (U21, Pyunik) of Armenia got three of his in first two games, ditto Ukraine's winger Vyacheslav Churko of Shaktar Donetsk.
Betinho topped the assists charts but quite a few shared three assists with France's Plea, Croatia's Kovačić and Portugal's Esgaio: Giorgi Chanturia once more, Aalborg and Denmark right-winger Lucas Andersen, Dutch left-winger Elvis Manu of Feyenoord, Cyprus playmaker and captain Zacharias Theodorou (Anorthosis Famagusta).