Russia advance, octet remain in contention
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Russia edged out England and Portugal to top Group 6 in the UEFA U-17 Championship elite round last week, becoming one of eight European sides on the verge of qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.

With the three Group 6 teams sharing identical records in round robin, Russia advanced by tiebreaker thanks to their 2-1 victory over home team England, with Ramil Sheydaev delivering the deciding goal in that match. Russia were joined by Italy, Croatia, Austria, Sweden, Ukraine, Switzerland and hosts Slovakia in advancing to the UEFA U-17 finals from 5-17 May. The top six finishers from that competition will qualify for UAE 2013, which will run from 17 October to 8 November in six cities across the country.

If Russia’s U-17s can advance in Slovakia, they could have one of the largest fan contingents behind them in the world finals. More than 25,000 Russians reside in the United Arab Emirates according to recent census data, and approximately one million Russian tourists visit annually according to Russia Today.

Elsewhere in the UEFA U-17 elite round last week, FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 winners Switzerland put themselves in a strong position to qualify again in 2013. Last week Switzerland finished atop Group 5 with two wins and one draw, ahead of Poland and the Czech Republic, to advance to Slovakia. In 2009 the Swiss U-17s ran through a number of perennial favourites on their way to the title, culminating in a 1-0 victory over host Nigeria in the finals.

Also last week Croatia and Ukraine booked their spot in the UEFA U-17 final round this summer by finishing ahead of traditional powers Spain, France and Germany in Group 1 and Group 4, respectively. Austria bettered Serbia and Republic of Ireland in Group 2, Sweden advanced via tiebreaker over Hungary in Group 3 and Italy distanced themselves from Norway and the Netherlands in Group 7.

By the time the six FIFA U-17 World Cup qualifiers from UEFA are decided this May, the other 18 sides from around the world will have already secured their spots in the UAE. Five teams have already made it, with host UAE joined by Japan, Iran, Iraq and Uzbekistan from the AFC. Qualifiers from CAF, CONCACAF, OFC and CONMEBOL will be determined this month.

The official draw for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 will take place this summer, with more details to follow.