European Under-17 Championships Preview

6 05 2009

uefau17Time to take a step outside the Top 50 prospects. Whilst Jose Baxter, John Bostock and Jack Wilshere will be part of England’s squad, the tournament is a massive deal in youth football, and over the last few years has produced players who have gone on to make an almost immediate impact in professional football. The 2009 tournament kicks off tomorrow (Wednesday), and here’s a preview:

The Tournament

Starting off with the basics, we have eight of the top nations on the continent vying for glory. Home team Germany are joined by defending Champions Spain, England, France, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey for a twelve-day football bonanza. The hosts have generously laid on twelve different venues for the competition, with the hub of the action taking place in the heart of the country. The action kicks off with an 11am (CET) triple-header before the first televised action of the day in the evening, when British Eurosport cover Germany vs Turkey at 18.15 (CET).

Group A features Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland, whilst Group B’s monstrous line-up comprises the remaining four teams. The top two teams in each group after three rounds qualifies for the Semi-Finals, with the Final played on Monday May 18th.

Schedule and Television

A quick and easy reference to who plays when and where you can see it:

(All times CET)
Wednesday 6th May – France vs Switzerland – 11am
Wednesday 6th May – England vs Holland – 11am
Wednesday 6th May – Spain vs Italy – 11am (Live on Eurosport)
Wednesday 6th May – Germany vs Turkey – 6.15pm (Live on Eurosport)
Saturday 9th May – Spain vs France – 12 noon (Live on Eurosport)
Saturday 9th May – Italy vs Switzerland – 2pm
Saturday 9th May – Germany vs England – 2pm (Live on Eurosport)
Saturday 9th May – Turkey vs Holland – 2pm
Tuesday 12th May – Switzerland vs Spain – 11am (Live on Eurosport)
Tuesday 12th May – Italy vs France – 11am
Tuesday 12th May – Holland vs Germany – 5.45pm (Live on Eurosport)
Tuesday 12th May – Turkey vs England, 5.45pm
Friday 15th May – Semi Final 1 – 11am (Live on Eurosport)
Friday 15th May – Semi Final 2 – 5.45pm (Live on Eurosport)
Monday 18th May – Final – 11am (Live on Eurosport)

The Teams

England

The Three Lions reached the Final of this competition in 2007, when a strong tournament performance led by the irrepressable Victor Moses was scupped in the Final by Spain and Bojan Krkic. After missing out last year they return with strong intentions of winning the trophy and a squad capable of achieving just that. John Peacock’s team qualified comfortably and the coach has been able to call upon a mixed squad comprising experience from players playing above their age group and game-changing ability in players who are still at school. Midfield is where the English will be really strong, with Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere capable of pulling all the creative strings. Charlton’s Jonjo Shelvey has been playing impressively in recent weeks and will revel in a free role in his current form should he be given one, whilst Tottenham’s John Bostock will run the engine room more centrally.

Should the experienced (those with notable professional outings under their belt) not come up to scratch, Peacock will be able to call on the pace of Jacob Walcott, the power of Lateef Elford-Aliyu and Jose Baxter, or the fantastic partnership of Arsenal strike due Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe to put the ball in the back of the net. If there’s a real weakness in the team it’s in defence, where a lack of depth exposes Louis Laing playing an age group above himself, and Eddie Oshodi with a lot to prove outside of his physical abilities. Norwich City goalkeeper Jed Steer will have to live up to his reputation as one of the best young prospects of his position if England are going to go far, but they’ve got the attacking power to outscore anybody.

Squad: 1 Jed Steer, 2 James Hurst, 3 Luke Garbutt, 4 Gary Gardner, 5 Louis Laing, 6 Tom Parkes, 7 Jonjo Shelvey, 8 John Bostock, 9 Jose Baxter, 10 Jack Wilshere, 11 Benik Afobe, 12 Luke Freeman, 13 Sam Johnstone, 14 Ryan Tunnicliffe, 15 Eddie Oshodi, 16 Lateef Elford-Aliyu, 17 Jacob Walcott, 18 Samuel Haberingham

Prediction: Semi-Finalists

France

The French are typically strong at youth level, but haven’t had the most impressive record in this competition. Their only win came in 2004 and despite reaching last year’s Final, they were duly dismissed by a rampant Spanish team in a 4-0 defeat. They return this campaign with a new generation and whilst many of their names aren’t as familiar as in years past, they have the talent to cause every opponent problems. They’re strong in defence with Dennis Appiah and Darnel Situ, the latter being linked with Manchester United in the past year, whilst the prolific Jimmy Kamghain and Lille’s latest young prospect Arnaud Souquet lead the charge at the other end of the pitch, with Chris Gadi also capable of finding the back of the net.

Zacharie Boucher in goal appears to be the latest off the incredible production line at Le Havre, who developed current French number one Steve Mandanda. Les Bleus are coached by the experienced and well-travelled Philippe Bergeroo and he has constructed a robust team which is difficult to beat, but may lack a cutting edge when it matters.

Squad: 1 Zacharie Boucher, 2 Alassane Tambe, 3 Atila Turan, 4 Dennis Appiah, 5 Darnel Situ, 6 Nampalys Mendy, 7 Yeni Ngbakoto, 8 Neeskens Kabano, 9 Benjamin Jeannot, 10 Chris Gadi, 11 Mehdi Abeid, 12 Pierrick Cros, 13 Guy Pelet, 14 Arnaud Souquet, 15 Christopher Missilou, 16 Mehdi Taieb, 17 Jimmy Kamghain, 18 Ishak Belfodil

Prediction: Group Stage

Germany

The hosts are a re-emerging force at youth level and are current Under-19 Champions, based off a team which first impressed in the Under-17 Finals of 2007. As hosts, they play with the pressure and expectation in front of what are expected to be healthy crowds, and look to end a near two-decade barren spell at this level. Without the need to qualify, preparation has been tough, with no competitive fixtures to take part in, but coach Marco Pezzaiuloi has put together what he belives to be a squad capable of competing.

Werder Bremen striker Lennart Thy will lead the way, having accomplished an impressive scoring ratio over the last year. He may be partnered by Florian Trinks, who also plays at Bremen and likes to put the ball into the back of the net as well. Shkodran Mustafi and Mario Gotze will add creativity in midfield, whilst the steel and security at the back will come from Liverpool’s Christoph Buchtmann and Nurnberg’s Marvin Plattenhardt.

The organising committee for the hosts has been praised for their wonderful innovations and initiative in pushing the Finals and making it potentially the best-attended ever, and it now needs a successful host nation to capture the imagination. On paper, there are stronger teams, but Germany can always prove you wrong.

Squad: 1 Marc-André ter Stegen, 2 Bienvenue Basala Mazana, 3 Marvin Plattenhardt, 4 Robert Labus, 5 Shkodran Mustafi, 6 Gerrit Nauber, 7 Christoph Buchtmann, 8 Reinhold Yabo, 9 Lennart Thy, 10 Mario Gotze, 11 Abu-Bakarr Kargbo, 12 Bernd Leno, 13 Niko Opper, 14 Yunus Malli, 17 Manuel Janzer, 18 Matthias Zimmermann, 19 Florian Trinks, 20 Kevin Scheidhauer

Prediction: Group Stage

Italy

The current World Champions have a tough time of it at youth level. Rarely successful, this is their first Under-17 Finals since they hosted the tournament in 2005, but perhaps the fact they will arrive in Germany is testament to the squad assembled by Pasquale Salerno. There is notable experience throughout the squad which will aid potential progress, and prolific goalscoring in the form of Giacomo Berretta, who scored the goals which put the Azzurri in the Finals.

Defender Vincenzo Camilleri should feature, having returned to Reggina in February after a controversial move to Chelsea didn’t suit him. Simone Dell’Agnello is a talent in attack, whilst Genoa’s Stephen El Sharaawy has already made a professional debut in Serie A. Inter rate their midfielder Marco Ezio Fossati highly, and whilst this squad might appear to be short on star names – those you may recognise – it’s certainly capable of providing Italy with perhaps their best Under-17 Finals ever.

Squad: 1 Mattia Perin, 2 Francesco Finocchio, 3 Stefano Baraldo, 4 Alessio Campoli, 5 Simone Benedetti, 6 Vincenzo Camilleri, 7 Simone Sini, 8 Marco Ezio Fossati, 9 Alessando De Vitis, 10 Stephen El Sharaawy, 11 Simone Dell’Agnello, 12 Francesco Bardi, 13 Felice Natalini, 14 Michele Camporese, 15 Giacomo Beretta, 16 Leonardo Bianchi, 17 Alberto Libertazzi, 18 Lorenzo Crisetig

Prediction: Semi-Finals

Netherlands

If the Dutch pride themselves on the quality of their football as their main identity, the quality of their youth teams doesn’t come far behind. It’s therefore a surprise that for all their talents over the years, they’ve never won a major international title, and only reached their first Final in 2005, when they were runners-up in this competition. This year’s squad under Albert Stuivenberg has the potential to finally put one in the wins column, and the quality of their midfield is where it all begins.

Arsenal’s Oguzhan Ozyakup is a tall and rangy player capable of playing inside or out wide, with a fantastic range of passing and a dynamic drive which sees him influence every game. Whilst he pulls the strings, Shabir Isoufi can come to the fore with his brand of creativity. It’s almost an embarrassment of wealth in the middle of the park and any success will rely on them performing, but they’re capable all over the pitch. Ajax pair Ruben Ligeon and Dico Koppers are also worth looking out for, whilst striker Luc Castaignos leads six Feyenoord representatives.

Squad: 1 Gerrit Jan ter Mate, 2 Ruben Ligeon, 3 Stefan de Vrij, 4 Dico Koppers, 5 Martijn de Vries, 6 Jerry van Ewijk, 7 Shabir Isoufi, 8 Osama Rashid, 9 Luc Castaignos, 10 Oguzhan Ozyakup, 11 Nygel Velder, 12 Joel Ivo Veltman, 13 Rangelo Janga, 14 Mohamed Madmar, 15 Bob Schepers, 16 Warner Hahn, 17 Martinus Franciscus van Huijgevoort, 18 Ryan Bouwmeester

Prediction: Runners-Up

Spain

Spain are almost untouchable at this level. Back-to-back defending Champions, they won the 2008 Final in imperious fashion, led by Rubén Rochina and Keko in dismantling France 4-0. It was their seventh crown at Under-17 level and whilst two-decade veteran coach Juan Santísteban has retired, his assistant for many of those years, Ginés Meléndez, has taken charge and will be looking to complete the first ever three-peat at any UEFA international level.

Meléndez has inherited a talented pool of players as capable as any of the previous teams of once again winning the trophy. Atlético Madrid have been key to recent successes with goalkeeper David De Gea and midfielder Ignacio Camacho leading the charge to glory in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and this time they provide Keko, who is similar to Camacho, and free-scoring striker Borja González. Borja will be supported by Real Madrid’s Pablo Sarabia, whilst Marc Muniesa of Barcelona will be a stable hand in defence, only missing out on last year’s squad through serious injury. You look through the core of the team and it is of the highest quality, and with the support elsewhere, the defending Champions are favourites.

Squad: 1 Edgar, 2 Albert Dalmau, 3 Albert Blázquez, 4 Marc Muniesa, 5 Adria Blanchart, 6 Koke, 7 Kevin Lacruz, 8 Alejandro Fernández, 9 Borja González, 10 Isco, 11 Pablo Sarabia, 12 Enric Saborit, 13 Yeray Gomez, 14 Sergi Gómez, 15 Iker Muniain, 16 Rubén Pardo, 17 Cifo, 18 Rubén Sobrino

Prediction: Winner

Switzerland

In a sea of big fish, Switzerland could easily be seen as the bottom-feeder of the tournament. But, with pedigree at Under-17 level (shock winners in 2002) and an impressive qualification, the Swiss are back on the Finals stage for the first time since winning the lot seven years ago. Dany Ryser will be hoping his players can go on to emulate Philippe Senderos and friends in not only stealing the show in Germany, but going on to forge strong international careers. It’s a tough ask, but they’re going to have a good go at it.

Key to their chances, like Senderos back in 2002, is captain and rock-solid centre-back Frederic Veseli. A regular for Manchester City’s academy team, he is strong and solid and an assuring hand at the back in a position which is likely to come under some focused pressure. When they go forward they’ll be looking at the tricky Nassim Ben Khalifa and the powerful Kofi Nimeley, two of many in the squad with ties to other counties, a trend amongst Swiss footballers in recent years. Ben Khalifa scored a crucial hat-trick to seal qualification, and if they’re to upset the apple cart again, his name will be on everyone’s lips.

Squad: 1 Benjamin Siegrist, 2 André Goncalves, 3 Janick Kamber, 4 Charyl Chappuis, 5 Frederic Veseli, 6 Kofi Nimeley, 7 Roman Buess, 8 Oliver Buff, 9 Haris Seferovic, 10 Nassim Ben Khalifa, 11 Granit Xhaka, 12 Raphael Spiegel, 13 Bruno Martignoni, 14 Nico Zwimpfer, 15 Maik Nakic, 16 Matteo Tosetti, 17 Guy Roger Eschmann, 19 Igor Mijatovic

Prediction: Group Stage

Turkey

Turkish football has developed rapidly in the last decade, and with the success at all senior levels, both club and country, the nation’s youth teams have been slowly improving as well. Hosting the tournament last season, they were impressive Semi Finalists, and will hope to at least match that this year. Former experienced international Abdullah Ercan leads a team which is strong, works tirelessly, and has technical ability to boot.

Striker Muhammet Demir has the experience of the 2008 Finals under his belt and will be central to their chances. He rebuffed interest from Chelsea this season, but team-mate Gokhan Tore didn’t, signing for the Blues in January. The winger is a squat, bullish sort with a deft touch and fine crossing ability, and has been a key performer in qualification. Ohran Gulle will keep control in the middle of the field, with creative flair provided by Engin Bekdemir. West Ham’s former Manchester United schoolboy Deniz Mehmet will keep goal.

Squad: 1 Deniz Mehmet, 2 Okan Alkan, 3 Nurettin Kayaoğlu, 4 Oğulcan Gökçe, 5 Furkan Şeker, 6 Ohran Gülle, 7 Berkin Kamil Arslan, 8 Deniz Herber, 9 Muhammet Demir, 10 Gökhan Töre, 11 Hasan Ahmet Sari, 12 Sercan Hacioğlu, 13 Barış Yardımcı, 14 Engin Bekdemir, 15 Sezer Özmen, 16 Ömer Ali Şahiner, 17 Onur Karakabak, 18 Kamil Ahmet Cörekçi

Prediction: Group Stage

You can keep up with the entire tournament here and at UEFA.com.

NB. Post was re-published due to wordpress issue, comments have been lost.

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