Poles enjoying home comfortsFriday, 24 March 2006
by Pawel Dimow
Poland progressed past the UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round on home soil without conceding a goal - and they are aiming to do the same in the next stage against Belgium, Slovakia and former winners Switzerland starting on Sunday.
In September's qualifying round they defeated Norway and Liechtenstein 2-0 and drew 0-0 with group victors Moldova, and coach Dariusz Dziekanowski believes his team could reach Luxembourg. "I am happy with the draw," he said. "We could have met France, Spain or England after all. The group is evenly matched but we can cope with all our rivals. We know the Slovaks best, as they beat us 2-0 last year. That game was very tough. We will probably play without three important players who are injured, but nonetheless our aim is first place."
Dziekanowski's side travelled to Slovenia last month to play the hosts' U18s, losing 4-1 and 3-0. However, in early March they reached the final of a six-team tournament in Minsk, falling to hosts Belarus 3-1 having overcome Azerbaijan, Latvia and Belarus U16s. They then completed their preparations with a 2-1 loss against Spain.
Belgium in form
Belgium are Poland's first opponents, and although they gained fewer qualifying round points than their rivals, they topped their pool, drawing 2-2 with Georgia and Austria either side of a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria. In January, Belgium went down 1-0 and 4-0 in friendlies against U17 holders Turkey, but then won their group in the La Manga tournament in Spain. Finland were defeated 4-1, before Belgium held Norway 1-1 and the Czech Republic 2-2. Qualification would also be a boost as Belgium will stage the 2007 U17 finals.
Slovakia, who start against Switzerland, lost their opening qualifier 3-1 to Finland in September, but then hit form as they thrashed Greece 7-0 and Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-1. They returned to action in February with two games against Serbia and Montenegro, and again showed a steep learning curve, as a day after succumbing 4-0 they drew 1-1, Derby County FC's Róbert Ujcík on target. Lubomír Moravcík's men also met Romania twice this month, winning 2-0 then losing by the same score.
Striker Ujcík is one to watch, along with Manchester City FC midfielder Vladimír Weiss Jr - son of the former FC Artmedia coach. Two other familar names belong to Martin Jurkemík, whose father Ladislav once coached Slovakia's national team, and his Inter Bratislava club mate Peter Fieber Jr, son of the Czechoslovakian international. But the biggest name is perhaps forward Miroslav Stoch, who has already made his senior debut for FC Nitra and is linked to Chelsea FC.
Switzerland, meanwhile, have a fine tradition to uphold, having won the first U17 competition in 2002 and competed in the finals last year. They made the Elite round with ease, overcoming Estonia 5-1, Kazakhstan 4-1 and the Welsh hosts 3-0. Two weeks ago they faced Wales yet again in their Swiss training base at Tenero, winning 2-0.
FC Basel 1893 striker Fabian Frei is the main goalscorer, and club mates Valentin Stocker and Abraham Keller are also dangerous. However, coach Pierluigi Tami will be absent from Poland due to family illness, so Daniel Ryser takes charge, assisted by U19 coach Claude Ryf. Ryser said: "All our opponents are tough but we can beat them. I think there will be suspense until the last matches."
Additional reporting by Berend Scholten, Stanislav Hlavacek & Marco Keller
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