The UEFA Under-17 Championship kicks-off on Friday with the first matches from both Groups A and B at the National Stadium and the Gozo Stadium.
Led by coach Sergio Soldano, the Malta Under-17 side hosts England at the National Stadium, kick-off at 18:00 in a match from Group A. Also in Group A, the Netherlands take on Turkey at the National Stadium, kick-off at 11:00.
In Group B, Germany take on Switzerland at 11:15 while Scotland face Portugal at 15:15. Both matches will be played at the Gozo Stadium.
Winners in 2011 and 2012, the Netherlands were first to qualify after seeing off France 3-1 on home soil in Uden. Turkey made a bit of history in Group 2 as they beat Poland on penalties for Group 2 first place in Greece after a final-day draw with both teams dead level while England downed Italy in their last match to achieve maximum points in Group 4.
Switzerland scored a late winner against Spain to pip both them and holders Russia in Group 1; Germany held Group 5 hosts Serbia in a decisive game to progress on goal difference while Scotland reached their first championship for six years with a game to spare at home in Group 6, something another mini-tournament host Portugal managed in Group 7. Malta, on the other hand, is taking part in these finals as host country.
Addressing the media on Thursday at the Seabank Hotel which is hosting all visiting teams, Malta coach Sergio Soldano said the atmosphere within the squad is calm. He said the players are aware of the strength of their opponents but know they are representing their country and this was a unique opportunity to participate in the final stage of a tournament.
Soldano said that although Malta will face much stronger teams, the team will not defend all out. He said his plans focus on attacking in an organised way.
The Malta Under-17 coach revealed that when he was first approached by the MFA President during a lunch at the Grand Harbour, Norman Darmanin Demajo told him that just like how Malta was surrounded by fortified walls as it was always under the attack in history, he wished to see a squad which was not afraid of opponents. Soldano said Malta will try to interpret game with the right morale and personality.
Sergio Soldano defender the selection of 15-year old Myles Beerman who will be the youngest player in the tournament. He said that all the players in the squad have the qualities to be there and in Beerman’s case, he also has the experience of playing abroad.
England coach John Peacock said the team has been working hard to do well in the tournament and in their first game, they will definitely not underestimate Malta as he knew quite well that this was a great occasion for Malta and the Malta FA. He said that his team must make sure to do what they do best and hopefully the quality of the team comes to the fore at the end of the game.
Asked whether his team could be considered as favourites to lift the trophy, Peacock said that at this stage, an act of brilliance or a mistake from youngsters who are still learning the game can do the whole difference. He said that on paper, England had a strong team but there is also strong opposition, also considering the fact that six of the eight participating countries actually won this tournament before.
The players at his disposal are coming from academies of Premier League and Championship clubs apart from Taylor Moore who plays for Lens in France. John Peacock said that all these players have a chance to have a career in football but at this stage, many things may affect their career and therefore it was difficult to predict who will make it at top-level football.
Netherlands coach Maarten Stekelenburg said this was his first year at the helm of the Under-17 national team after spending ten years at the Ajax coaching staff and then four years with Ajax Cape Town in South Africa – first as Head Coach in the Academy and then as head coach.
Stekelenburg said that all teams who are taking part in the finals are good enough to win the cup, considering that the teams went through such a difficult qualifying campaign. He said that in international football, there are no weak teams.
Turkey coach Hakan Tecimer said all of the teams who reached this stage have equal chances. He said Turkey had a strong team but were not under pressure to perform.
Tecimer expects his players to deliver good performances and said good behaviour on-and-off the pitch was of utmost performance.
One of the players in the Turkey squad Enes Ünal has already made eight appearances for the senior side of Bursaspor in the Turkish Süper Lig. Another two players are playing regularly in the Turkish third division.
Germany coach Christian Wück said Group B was very balanced as Portugal, Scotland and Switzerland all have good individual players. He said that the team has been preparing for this tournament for the past eighteen months. Last January, the team went for a training camp in Spain and then took part in a tournament in Portugal before playing the Elite Round in Serbia. He said he feels the team was prepared well for the tournament.
Wück said he believes England was the favourite for this tournament.
All the players in the German squad play for the youth teams of Bundesliga sides but some of them do train with the senior side. The Germany coach said it was typical in Germany not to let young players in the first team at an early stage. All our players play for bundesliga teams but many of them train with first team.
Portugal coach Emilio Peixe said his main objective for this competition was a good performance by the team. He said he told the players to sho their passion and enjoy these finals.
Peixe said the team will try to go as far as they can but in the tournament there were eight teams that can achieve the title.
Switzerland assistant coach Bertrand Choffat said that at this level, it was important to have a good start. He said that in such a tournament, everything was possible. He said that on their way to the finals, Switzerland faced a difficult draw, meeting Denmark and Austria. In the Elite Round, it was even more difficult, facing holders Russia and Spain. However the fact that Switzerland still managed to reach the finals proves that the team has some good technical qualities.
Scotland coach Scot Gemmill said he had a lot of belief in his squad. He said this group has proved in last eighteen months that they have a strong mentality and are ready to act as footballers.
Gemill said that on the road to the finals, Scotland played against very good teams and in the finals, it would be similar.
One of the players in the squad – Craig Wighton of Dundee has already played for the first team.
Tickets for Netherlands vs Turkey will be available from the West C ticket-booth while those for Malta vs England will be available from the West A and West C ticket-booths. Tickets for the two matches at the Gozo Stadium will be available from Entrance A.
Tickets cost €2 for each match in the group stage. A block-ticket for the group stage where one can watch one game per match-day costs €4. A ticket for the two semi-finals costs €5 while a ticket for the final costs €5. Ticket-holders have the opportunity to win various prizes including a ticket to join the Malta national team for an away EURO 2016 qualifier, one of four EURO 2016 Goal Cards, one of three complimentary season cards for domestic matches for season 2013/14 and one of three national team shirts.
Germany vs Switzerland will be broadcast on Eurosport while Netherlands vs Turkey, Scotland vs Portugal and Malta vs England will be broadcast on Eurosport 2. Malta vs England will be broadcast on TVM2 as well.