The UEFA European U-19 Championship gets off to a mouth-watering start on 13 July 2004 in Switzerland's Fribourg, when tournament favourites Germany and Spain go head to head.

The Spanish team coached by Jose Armando Ufarte (63) is one of the most technically gifted at the tournament. Two members of the squad, Juanfran and Jaime Gavilán, can look back on valuable experience at the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003, when Spain were defeated by Brazil in the Final. Ufarte has previously won the European U-16 Championship (twice) and European U-19 Championship as coach. Spain did not concede a single goal in the second stage of qualifying, something Ufarte attributes to a team ethic: "Yes, we have key players in defence, but everybody works hard to contribute to the strength of the team." The principal attacking threat is 19-year-old Roberto Soldado, who scored 22 goals for Real Madrid's B-team last season and will train with the first team in future.

Germany optimistic
The German U-19 team coached by Dieter Eilts, who made 31 appearances at senior international level, will be hoping to make up for the shortcomings of the full international team and U-21s at the European Championship in recent weeks. Eilts is optimistic: "Our main objective is to qualify for the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. To do that we have to finish at least third in the group, and I think we can. We are on a good run and have every reason to be confident." In the ten games since Eilts took charge in July 2003, Germany have managed six victories and four draws and are undefeated in 14 months. Built on a solid defence, Germany are not short of attacking options: 19-year-old Michael Delura (Schalke 04), Sahr Sanesie (Borussia Dortmund) and Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart) are all capable of providing the necessary goals.

Turkey and Poland are the outsiders in a difficult Group B, although Turkish coach Müjdate Yalman (54) remains optimistic: "We want to play good and fair football. We have just as good a chance of reaching the semi-finals as the other teams." Top scorer for Turkey in qualifying was 19-year-old midfielder Selcuk Inan with four goals. It is a testament to Turkey's excellent defence that goalkeeper Serkan Kirintili only had to pick the ball out of his net four times in six games.

Poland, European U-18 Champions in 2001, qualified emphatically for the tournament in Switzerland. Coach Andrzej Zamilski's fledglings won all of their qualifying games, beating opponents such as Norway, Austria and Scotland. "Obviously Spain are favourites, but we fear nobody. Our qualification was no coincidence," said Zamilski. "I can't promise that we will win the tournament, but we definitely want to finish in the top three of our group to qualify for the Netherlands."

In Group A, hosts Switzerland are drawn with Italy, Belgium and Ukraine. Switzerland will be hoping to repeat the success of the U-17 team, who triumphed in Denmark two years ago. Coach Pierre-André Schürmann was satisfied with the draw: "The groups are quite well balanced. If we play well, the results should follow automatically," said the 44-year-old. Some ten players from the successful U-17 team feature in a squad growing in confidence with five victories in their last six outings. However, they will have to cope without three experienced players: Johan Vonlanthen, who recently became the youngest ever scorer at a European Championship in Portugal, as well as Tranquillo Barnetta and Philippe Senderos.

Italy favourites in Group A
Reigning champions Italy go into the tournament as favourites in Group A, with coach Paolo Berrettini hoping his team can repeat the success of last year. The 55-year-old has players with Serie A experience at his disposal, including striker Andrea Alberti, who made two appearances for Brescia last season, while Inter Milan's Devis Nossa will lead a strong back line. Italy's credentials at major youth tournaments were underlined just recently, when the U-21 team lifted the European Championship for the fifth time.

Belgium, coached for the last five years by former goalkeeper Marc van Geersom, know the importance of their opening game against Ukraine: "We have to finish in the top three in the group to qualify for the World Youth Championship. A win would give us the confidence we need to have a good tournament," said the 54-year old. Van Geersom can also call upon players with top-flight experience, such as Agyeman Dickson and Killian Overmeire. The pace of 17-year-old right winger Jonathan Legear of RSC Anderlecht will also be a potent weapon for the team.

Ukraine have vowed to take the game to their opponents in the tournament, after some disappointing performances in the past. Coach Pavel Yakovenko, a former Dynamo Kiev midfielder and participant at the 1986 and 1990 FIFA World Cup™ explains: "In the past, we have always been happy just to participate at such tournaments. Now our players are good enough to win games. We respect our opponents, but our ambition has to be to win every game." Yakovenko, who stresses that the strength of the team is greater than the sum of its parts, also has a few aces up his sleeve, including striker Olexandr Aliyev who scored seven goals in six matches in qualifying.

European U-19 Championship match schedule

Match day 1

13.07.04 18:00   Fribourg Group B Germany - Spain
13.07.04 19:00   Kriens  Group A Belgium - Ukraine
13.07.04 19:00   Aarau  Group A Switzerland - Italy
13.07.04 19:00   Lausanne Group B Poland - Turkey

Match day 2

15.07.04 18:00   Fribourg Group B Germany - Poland
15.07.04 18:00   Lausanne Group B Spain- Turkey
15.07.04 19:00   Kriens  Group A Italy- Ukraine
15.07.04 20:00   Aarau  Group A Switzerland - Belgium

Match day 3

18.07.04 18:00   Fribourg Group B Turkey- Germany
18.07.04 18:00   Lausanne Group B Spain- Poland
18.07.04 20:00   Kriens  Group A Ukraine - Switzerland
18.07.04 20:00   Aarau  Group A Italy- Belgium

Semi-finals

21.07.04 18:00   Fribourg   1st Group A - 2nd Group B
21.07.04 18:00   Lausanne   1st Group B - 2nd Group A

Final

24.07.04 18:00   Nyon    Winner SF 1 - Winner SF 2