For the European nations, the road to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 is about to begin, with the elite qualifying round for the UEFA European U-17 Championship getting underway on 19 March.

Twenty eight teams will be battling it out in seven four-team groups, with each of the group-winners qualifying for the finals. Host nation Belgium will be the eighth and final team in the tournament, where not only the European Championship will be up for grabs but also five berths for the Korea 2007 .

The Germany U-17 team looks one of the best-equipped outfits to meet this challenge head on. At the end of February, the DFB youngsters beat both England and France 3-1 and 2-0 respectively, which combined with a 1-1 draw with host nation Portugal was enough to secure victory in the Algarve Cup.

Under the aegis of 55-year-old coach Paul Schomann, the Germans impressed observers with their attacking football and fighting spirit. spoke to Schomann about the tournament in Portugal and the challenges facing his team with the FIFA U-17 World Cup on the horizon. Mr Schomann, congratulations on your win at the Algarve Cup. How do you think the tournament went overall?
Paul Schomann:
It brought together four teams who are among the best in Europe at this age level. The results in all of the matches were tight, and I have to say that this shows we were just that little bit better than each of our three opponents. On the whole, I think we deserved to win the tournament. It was perfect preparation for us for the elite round. It was good to come up against tough opposition and see just how well our team and also the individual players are looking - that way, everyone knows where they stand. In footballing terms, the team proved itself, both collectively and individually. The squad looked very well-organised out there and showed a lot of team spirit. What we now have to do is take the impetus we gained from those three games in Portugal and maintain the high playing standards we have set. If we can do that, then we can approach the qualifiers with every confidence.

In the elite round, you will be coming up against Greece, Ireland and Scotland. What is your take on these three opponents?
It's always tough to make comparisons. The Greeks are a southern European team who like to play their football. They have some reasonable individuals, but if you put them under constant pressure, they don't play as a team. What we therefore have to do is not give them any room to play and pressurise them for the whole 80 minutes. That way, we'll be able play our football. The Scots and the Irish both play a typically British type of football where guts and determination come to the fore, so we'll have to show just as much grit as they do. The Irish have some very useful midfielders, but I have no worries about my team being able to both match and outplay them. This is the only way we can show the team's full potential.

At the Algarve Cup, your team really impressed with its attacking brand of football, particularly in the 3-1 win over England. Is this the way you intend to carry on playing?
My, or should I say our, basic principles when it comes to training are trying to develop attack-minded football, so we can be the ones dictating the tempo on the pitch and the way the match unfolds. Our boys have this drummed into them in training, so that they can take it with them throughout their careers when they turn professional. Our strengths lie in attack, that's obvious, and we are going to try to play high-tempo football in every match and vary our striking methods to get the better of our opposition.

What is the main thing you concentrate on in training with this age group?
My philosophy when training youngsters is to teach them variety, flexibility and the other skills you need to develop your football. Fitness takes care of itself, and players can concentrate more on that later in their careers. What is much more important is their footballing development.

In your opinion, which are the best teams in Europe?
With the exception of Spain, we've played almost all of the top European junior teams at U-17 and U-16 level over the past few years. We've played Italy, France, Portugal, England, the Netherlands and Russia. Czech Republic have to be considered among the top teams as well based on recent performances. These are the teams that I would put in the top drawer of European football.

Germany came fourth at last year's European Championship. What is your target this time around?
We're not really concerned with specific targets. We're currently aiming to qualify from the elite round - that's our next hurdle. After that, we have a more difficult challenge: the European Championship itself. But we're not thinking that far ahead yet.

No Germany team have made it through to a FIFA U-17 World Cup since 1999. How do you explain that?
Well first of all, you have to qualify for the European Championship, and what with the field being reduced from 16 to eight teams in recent years, that has become incredibly tough. This has to be one of the reasons - just getting to the final phase in Europe is an achievement in itself. Up until last year, we never managed it, and luck always seemed to desert us just when we needed it most. That meant that we couldn't play in the World Cup.