Friday sees the return to action of the European Under-17 Championships in Germany, and we’re down to the final four.
After a group stage which perhaps failed to excite, with the exception of the hosts, attention turns to the first real knockout football of the competition as Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Italy battle for a spot in Monday’s title match. We get underway at 11am CET with Switzerland vs Holland in Grimma.
The Swiss are the tournament’s surprise team, topping their group and looking an impressive team throughout. It’s their first qualification since winning the tournament in 2002 and Dany Ryser will be hoping that some of his current generation can go on to emulate those who tasted youth glory on their way to becoming full internationals. They’re well marshalled in midfield by the strong Kofi Nimeley, whilst captain Federic Veseli has been useful at the heart of defence. Going forward, Nassim Ben Khalifa has been the standout, and if they’re to continue their form for another game, he’ll have to be on his game.
Ryder has two injury worries, with captain Veseli and midfielder Oliver Buff struggling, but he knows what to expect:
“We knew against Spain they would have more of the ball but I hope we are able to impose our style, a constructive approach, against the Dutch. This is the fourth game and it’s a very important experience – it’s impossible to replicate. For the young players, this is the best education.”
Holland are in the Semi-Finals largely by virtue of beating Turkey on Matchday 2, and despite a last-round defeat to Germany, they were able to progress ahead of a disappointing England. They’ve not yet hit their own heights, but coach Albert Stuivenberg is hoping his team can come to the fore at the most important moments:
“We did not start [the tournament] well, but I saw an improvement against Germany even though we lost. So hopefully we can continue this way of playing. We created maybe five or six chances against Germany and did not score. We had a lot of possession against Germany but not in their half so we have to do that better against Switzerland.”
He has no selection worries, but has a tired squad and may choose to rotate to use fresher legs against a very well-conditioned Swiss unit.
At 1745 CET, we get underway with the second Semi, where the 100% hosts meet Italy, who bested France in the deciding game of Group A to make the last four. A healthy crowd is expected once again in Dessau-Rosslau, anxious to see the Nationalmannschaft reach the Final. Despite a perfect group record and plenty of goals, the last team to win 5/5 in the Finals was the French five years ago, and coach Marco Pezzaiuoli, himself of Italian heritage, knows that now is not the time for complacency:
“Our players have no experience of competitive games. That was a difficult situation for us at the start of the tournament. But the players have become used to the situation and performed well so far. We have to concentrate right now on the Italy match because this will be the toughest challenge so far for our boys.”
He will be able to welcome back Liverpool’s Christoph Buchtmann from suspension, and the left winger has been key so far, with a goal and three assists in his two outings. His crossing will be especially appreciated by Lennart Thy, who is fit and raring to go with a goal in each of his last two games.
Opponents Italy came into the tournament touted as an experienced line-up short on flair but with no lack of battle and spirit, and so it has proven. After holding the de-throned Spain to a goalless draw, they lost heavily to Switzerland but showed resolve and fight to come back from a goal down to beat France. They’re up against it undoubtedly, but coach Pasquale Salerno is playing to his team’s mental strengths:
“There are so many Italian fans here in Germany. We know they will come in numbers too. I have told my players to find extra motivation in playing for the Italian fans.”
Central defender Vincenzo Camilleri is struggling with a groin problem, but otherwise the Azzurri are at full health, with goalkeeper Mattia Perin back from suspension.
Both matches are shown live on Eurosport and, for the first time, live on UEFA.com.