Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship

Every two years the cream of Europe's young talent gathers for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship. The competition has existed in its current form since 1978. Denmark are hosting the 2011 tournament, which is likely to be the biggest football event in the country's history and will be the 18th staging of the tournament.

Joining the hosts are seven battle-hardened sides who progressed through a gruelling group stage that began in March 2009, before holding their nerve in the play-offs to seal their place. To be eligible for the campaign ending in 2011, players need to be born in or after 1988. Many can be actually 23 years old by the time the finals tournament takes place; however, when the qualification process began (late 2009) all players would have been 21 or under.

This tournament has been considered a stepping stone toward the senior team. Players such as Mesut Özil, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Luís Figo, Petr Čech, 2010 World Cup winner Iker Casillas, 2006 World Cup winners Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo, and Euro 2004 winner Georgios Karagounis began their international careers in the youth teams.

It all kicks off this Saturday, the 11th June, when Denmark face Switzerland and Belarus take on Iceland in Group A. The following day, Group B gets under way with games involving 2009 beaten finalists England, who play Spain and the Czech Republic versus Ukraine.

The tournament consists of two groups of four, with the top two from each progressing to the semi-finals where it becomes a knockout competition. In finals held a year before a summer Olympic Games the Championship also serves as qualification for the Olympic Football Tournament.

It is a measure of how tough qualification was that only three of the countries that contested the 2009 finals in Sweden are back this time – Belarus, England and Spain. The Czech Republic were the only side to come through qualifying undefeated. Iceland were the surprise package and Belarus pulled off the most astonishing result in qualifying, overturning a 2-0 play-off first-leg reverse to five-times champions Italy by triumphing 3-0 in Borisov. Spain can boast two FIFA World Cup winners in Javi Martínez and Juan Mata, while England are the only country to have qualified for a third successive time. Ukraine, finalists in 2006, have a squad brimming with UEFA Champions League pedigree, and will want to build on the promise of their UEFA European U19 Championship victory in 2009. Six players capped at senior level are included in the Switzerland squad for the U-21 finals, and sure to be spurred on by vociferous home support, Keld Bordinggaard's Denmark side have much to look forward to – as do fans across the continent.

The tournament venues will all be located in Jutland, at already existing stadiums in Aarhus, Aalborg, Herning and Viborg. The semi-finals will be played at the Herning Stadium and Viborg Stadium, and the final will take place in the Aarhus Stadium, Aarhus on the 25th June.

Group A: Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Belarus.
Group B: England, Spain, Ukraine, Czech Republic.

England Squad:
1 Frank Fielding
13 Alex McCarthy
23 Jason Steele

2 Michael Mancienne
3 Ryan Bertrand (pictured right)
5 Chris Smalling
6 Phil Jones
14 Kyle Walker
15 James Tomkins
16 Jack Cork

4 Fabrice Muamba
7 Marc Albrighton
8 Jordan Henderson
17 Thomas Cleverley
18 Henri Lansbury
19 Jack Rodwell
20 Danny Rose

9 Daniel Welbeck
10 Daniel Sturridge
11 Scott Sinclair
21 Nathan Delfounes
22 Connor Wickham (pictured right)

Head Coach: Stuart Pearce.
Asst Coach: Steve Wigley.

Group B Fixtures:
12.06.11 - Czech Rep vs. Ukraine - Viborg Stadium, Viborg - ko 17:00
12.06.11 - Spain vs. England - Herning Stadium, Herning - ko 19:45
15.06.11 - Czech Rep vs. Spain - Viborg Stadium, Viborg - ko 17:00
15.06.11 - Ukraine vs. England - Herning Stadium, Herning - ko 19:45
19.06.11 - England vs. Czech Republic - Viborg Stadium, Viborg - ko 19:45
19.06.11 - Ukraine vs. Spain - Herning Stadium, Herning - ko 19:45

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