Serbia stage for Group 2 contests

Elite round Group 2 hosts Serbia reached the semi-finals in 2009 and 2011 although the Republic of Ireland, Slovakia and Switzerland have plenty of pedigree of their own.

Serbia coach Ljubinko Drulović during his playing days
Serbia coach Ljubinko Drulović during his playing days ©Getty Images

Semi-finalists in 2009 and 2011, Serbia received a bye to the elite round and will look to capitalise on home soil. "This generation already missed a chance to demonstrate their qualities in the 2011 U17 finals in Serbia [fourth in their group], and now they want to show their collective strength," said Ljubinko Drulović. The head coach has overseen 15 friendlies – eight wins, two draws and five defeats – including a 3-1 defeat and a goalless draw against Belgium, a 2-1 home win against Scotland and, most recently, a 1-0 home loss to Georgia, who have since qualified for the U19 finals. "We've used these matches to make our team and spirit stronger and I'm optimistic; we respect our opponents but believe in our plan," said Drulović.

Key players: Vukan Savićević (midfielder, FK Crvena zvezda), Uroš Radaković (midfielder, Bologna FC), Dejan Meleg (forward, AFC Ajax), Uroš Đurđević (forward, FK Rad)

Qualifying round: bye

Republic of Ireland
Paul Doolin took Ireland to the semi-finals in Romania in 2011, losing 5-0 to eventual champions Spain, and believes that his current crop also have the ability to progress. "We have a balanced squad that has done well this season to remain unbeaten in seven games, so we'll be looking to qualify," said the coach, whose side rallied from 2-0 down to draw with Germany in their final qualifying round fixture. His plans have been boosted by Noe Baba's availability after injury.

Key players: Ian Lawlor (goalkeeper, Manchester City FC), Noe Baba (defender, Fulham FC), Kenneth McEvoy (midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur FC),  Sam Byrne (forward, Manchester United FC)

Qualifying round: Luxembourg 5-2, FYROM 1-0, Germany 2-2 (Group 5 runners-up)

Having claimed the final elite round place as the best third-placed side over the 12 qualifying round groups, Milan Malatinský – nephew of Anton Malatinský, after whom FC Spartak Trnava's ground is named – has a simple aim. "There is no option if you play for the national team; you have to fight," said the coach, who is hoping to use their junior side's run to the UEFA European U17 Championship semi-finals on home soil last month as inspiration. "We have a tough group, but we'll try our best; Serbia are at home, Switzerland have strong youth teams and Ireland showed their quality in drawing with Germany. I'll be happy if we achieve something."

Key players: Albert Rusnák jr (midfielder, Manchester City FC), Stanislav Lobotka (midfielder, FK AS Trenčín), Adam Zreľák (forward, MFK Ružomberok)

Qualifying round: Kazakhstan 5-0, Bosnia and Herzegovina 0-4, Norway 2-1 (Group 8 third place)

Despite surrendering the lead in a 4-3 qualifying round defeat by Scotland, Claude Ryf's team were already assured a safe passage to the next stage courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Romania and a 4-0 defeat of Armenia. "We have qualified but there is a bitter taste," said Ryf. "There's a little disappointment but that will soon fade. A new adventure starts soon and we're delighted to be involved." This year's goalless draw with Norway and a 1-0 reverse against the same opposition would have done little to alleviate any lingering concerns Ryf harboured. 

Key players: Martin Angha (defender, Arsenal FC), Michael Frey (forward, BSC Young Boys), Endogan Adili (forward, FC Basel 1893).

Qualifying round: Romania 1-1, Armenia 4-0, Scotland 3-4 (Group 9 runners-up)