The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, France and England can all look forward to competing at this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico after securing their qualification at the UEFA U-17 European Championship 2011.
For the continental showdown in Serbia, the top three teams from each of the two groups were guaranteed places at Mexico 2011. Alongside the hosts, defending champions England came up against France (2004 champions) and Denmark in Group A, while 2009 winners Germany faced the Netherlands, Czech Republic (2006 runners-up) and competition debutants Romania in Group B.
Denmark and Netherlands top groups
In Group A it was the Danes who raised the most eyebrows with consecutive victories over the hosts (3-2), England (2-0) and France (1-0) to finish top of the standings. England, on the other hand, struggled badly and only reached the semi-finals thanks to victory in their final group game against Serbia and France's simultaneous defeat by Denmark.
Hosts Serbia finished bottom of their section following two defeats and a draw against France (1-1), ending all hopesof a berth at Mexico 2011.
The battle to progress was similarly hard-fought in Group B, although the Netherlands secured their place in the last four with a game to spare, leaving their rivals to fight it out for second place. The Oranje youngsters maintained a solid defence throughout, keeping clean sheets in each of their three group games against Germany (2-0), Romania (1-0) and the Czechs (0-0).
All good things come in threes
In spite of their billing as tournament joint-favourites, Germany came close to an early exit following their opening defeat against the Netherlands and subsequent 1-1 draw with the Czechs. However, a 1-0 triumph over Romania in their final group game ensured the Germans not only booked their spot in the semi-finals, but also at Mexico 2011.
With their primary target of qualification already accomplished, the four semi-finalists could concentrate fully on their bid to claim the coveted European crown. In the first semi-final, the Netherlands took on titleholders England who, despite performing admirably, could not prevent their opponents from reaching the final for the third time since 2005 after Kyle Ebecilio scored the only goal of the game.
Their opponents in the final were Germany, who overcame the impressive Danes 2-0 in the other last-four clash to set up a repeat of the 2009 decider. Having already beaten their opponents 2-0 at the group stage and not conceded a goal throughout, the Oranje ranked as clear favourites heading into the showpiece finale.
Still Germany twice manage to go in front in the first half, only to be pegged back on each occasion. Three goals in the second period then saw Albert Stuivenberg's charges emerge eventual 5-2 victors to claim their first-ever UEFA U-17 European Championship title. "We earned the title this time. We came close two years ago and we've got our revenge this year," said Stuivenberg during the post-match celebrations.
Their victory continued an interesting trend in the history of the competition. Aside from Spain (2007 and 2008), no team has ever managed to claim the trophy for a second time.
The tournament once again provided a platform for several future stars, including Samed Yesil (Germany), Hallam Hope (England), Tonny Trinidade de Vihena and Kyle Ebecilio (both Netherlands), each of whom netted three goals to finish joint-top of the scoring charts.
With Serbia 2011 now settled, each of the six European qualifiers will now turn their attentions to the international showdown in Mexico this summer, the draw for which takes place on Tuesday, 17 May in Mexico City at 18:00 CET.
The UEFA sextet (Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, France and England) complete the list of 24 qualifiers for the tournament, which will take place across seven cities throughout Mexico between 18 June and 10 July.
Representing Asia at the will be Korea DPR, Australia, Japan and Uzbekistan. New Zealand will fly the flag for Oceania, while Africa will be represented by Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo DR and debutants Rwanda. Jamaica, Canada, Panama and USA will carry the hopes of the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone along with host nation Mexico.