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16 teams to fight for the U-17 European title from Wednesday 

Five places at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 on offer

Tournament newcomers the smallest nation ever to participate

Venue: Croatia (3-19 May 2017). The games will take place in Zagreb and Rijeka.

 

Reigning champions: Portugal, who beat Spain on penalties in the 2016 final in Azerbaijan.

 

This year, however, Portugal will not be present to defend their title. They failed to progress from qualifying Group 3, a difficult pool that included Poland, Greece and Spain, ending up on four points and in second place behind the latter.

 

Format: There will be four groups of four, with the top two from each section reaching the quarter-finals for the knock-out phase of the tournament.

 

Group A: Croatia, Spain, Turkey, Italy

Group B: Scotland, France, Hungary, Faroe Islands

Group C: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group D: Netherlands, England, Norway, Ukraine

 

Reasons to watch

The level of technical and tactical play of the U-17 teams is remarkable and in this age category the players take huge steps forwards in terms of athleticism. Countless stars have participated at U-17 European Championships, including current household names such as Renato Sanches, Memphis Depay, Paul Pogba, Mario Gotze, Thiago Alcantara, Eden Hazard, Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas and Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

"Tournaments like this help you to develop and grow," said Sanches, who won UEFA EURO 2016 with Portugal last summer and now plays for Bayern Munich. "You shoulder a lot of responsibility. I only have positive memories when I think back on those moments." 

 

World Cup dreams

In odd-numbered years the U-17 continental competition doubles up as the qualifying campaign for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will take place in India from 6-28 October. 

 

The four semi-finalists automatically book their tickets to the global showdown. Of the four losing quarter-finalists the two best teams, which are determined according to detailed criteria, contest a play-off for the fifth and final European qualifying spot.

 

Newcomers and underdogs

Norway and Faroe Islands will make their U-17 EURO tournament debuts. The latter – a nation with a population of approximately 50,000 – are competing at the finals of a UEFA competition for the very first time, having qualified as one of the best second-placed teams after Croatia.

 

"The Faroes are the smallest nation ever to have qualified for this tournament," said Christian Andreasen, president of the Faroe Islands Football Association. "It's a very talented group of players and we expect great things of them in the future."

 

The hosts

Croatia traditionally have very technically gifted teams and in the current crop of players it is Dinamo Zagreb left-back David Colina who stands out. He is the most experienced member of the side and uses his pace and crossing ability to good effect on the wing.

 

Croatia played well in two friendlies against Spain in February, recording a 1-0 defeat and a 2-1 victory, kindling hope that on home turf they could improve upon reaching the semi-finals in 2005, which stands as the nation's best-ever finish at an U-17 tournament. Croatia were knocked out in the quarter-finals when they last took part in the competition in 2015.

 

"The players can demonstrate their quality and steer their careers in the right direction," said Croatia U-17 coach Dario Basic. "Some people might think that we're under extra pressure but we'll have the fans behind us and will be in familiar surroundings."

 

The favourites

England, France, Spain and the Netherlands have all won the U-17 European title twice so far, and a third triumph for any of them would set a new record. That quartet are, naturally enough, among the favourites to lift the trophy this time. 

 

For Spain, all eyes will be on captain Abel Ruiz, who laces his boots at Barcelona. He was also involved in 2016 when the Iberians lost to Portugal on penalties, and scored four goals at those finals to finish as the tournament's second-top scorer. This time the Spaniards will be hoping his firepower can lead them to glory.

 

Italy are also among the favourites, although they are yet conquer Europe in this age category. Among their squad is pacey Juventus forward Moise Kean, who even made his UEFA Champions League debut against Sevilla last November.

 

Germany, who were top scorers in qualifying with 19 goals, likewise have designs on the title. "We've got a lot of players who are good in front of goal, we've got good tacklers and a team structure that works," said U-17 coach Christian Wuck. "We can travel to Croatia full of confidence."

Ibom Angels head coach, Whyte Ogbonda has said his side are determined to end their search for away win at neighbours, Bayelsa Queens.

 

The Uyo landladies are guests of the Yenagoa outfit in Wednesday’s Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) matchday 6 clash at the Nembe City Stadium.

 

Ogbonda said the side target is to end the first stanza top-flight campaign with a minimum of eleven points.

 

“We are working very hard to get an away win in the on-going Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL).

 

“A rare opportunity is on the table when we visit hosts, Bayelsa Queens in NWFL matchday 6 clash in Nembe.

 

“Our target is to end the first stanza on 11 points and for us to achieve the mark we must beat Bayelsa Queens as well as Heartland Queens to amass six points to add to the four in our kitty.

 

“The players know the importance of victory as they have already missed several match bonuses due to poor results.

 

“Bayelsa Queens are always strong side and they actually fortified the side for the on-going season.

 

“We must strive to close them up in the middle to neutralise their potency and strength,” said the former Rivers Angels coach to supersport.com.

 

Ogbonda said he has marshalled out other players to ease off unnecessary attention on NWFL leading scorer, Charity Reuben.

 

“We have other strikers that will help Charity to fence off undue attention on her, she is our top striker and leading goal scorer we will rally round her to achieve her aim.

 

“We will spread and share the burden among the players so that it will not be only on her,” said Ogbonda.

 

Ibom Angels are fifth on the Group A log on four points four behind league leaders and champions, Rivers Angels.

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