MX23RW : Tuesday, February 19 15:46:25

European Under-21 Championship - Group A preview

Sports Mole takes a detailed look at the four nations that will be eager to advance through Group A of the European Under-21 Championships.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Previous Euro U21 Champs best: Winners (2002)

Head coach - Jakub Dovalil: What Dovalil doesn't know about Czech football at youth level isn't worth knowing. He has been in charge of the Under-21s since 2008, having also held various other positions over the last 13 years. Under his watch in 2011, the youthful Czechs progressed through a group that included Spain and England, the latter of whom they defeated 2-1. They went as far as the semi-finals, where they were defeated by Switzerland. He also has a positive record on home soil, having guided the Under-19s to the Euro Champs last four in 2008.

Key player - Vaclav Kadlec

Vaclav Kadlec of Czech Republic in action during the UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off second leg match between Russia and Czech Republic held on October 16, 2012© Getty Images

He may have played with the number three on his shirt for loanee club Sparta Prague, but there is nothing defensive about the 23-year-old forward. Kadlec, who is on the books of German side Eintracht Frankfurt, likes to play in the number 10 position, which provides him with plenty of freedom. He already has senior international experience, with 12 caps and two goals to his name.

Sports Mole says: The triumph of 2002 lives long in the memory, but the Czechs have found it difficult to get back up to that standard since then. That team included the likes of Petr Cech and Milan Baros, yet while there are some talented individuals at Dovalil's disposal, there is no-one at that level. Home advatange could be key to them booking a place in the semi-finals, although it would not be a surprise if they fell just short.


DENMARK

Previous Euro U21 Champs best: Semi-finals (1992)

Head coach - Jess Thorup: After he had guided Esbjerg to the Danish Superliga title in 2012 and then the Danish Cup a year later, the Football Federation decided that the 45-year-old was the right man to nurture the nation's young talents. He had an instant impact as the Danes went through qualification unbeaten, scoring a highly impressive 38 goals in the process.

Key player - Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Denmark's Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Portugal's Tiago vie for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group I qualifying football match Denmark vs Portugal in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 14, 2014© Getty Images

There will not have been many bets placed for the Danes to win the tournament, but with a player like Hojbjerg available, they will believe anything is possible. He spent last season on loan at Augsburg from Bayern Munich and sent many reminders to his parent club of his capability. Playing in midfield, the 19-year-old has earned comparisons with former Bayern and current Real Madrid star Toni Kroos. There have been suggestions that he will be a regular member of Pep Guardiola's squad at the Allianz Arena next term.

Sports Mole says: Every international tournament seems to have a dark horse and Denmark are just that. Not only do they have Hojbjerg, the likes of Viktor Fischer and Andreas Christensen are also a part of the squad. They scored more goals in qualifying than any other nation, so any game that they are involved in shouldn't be dull. They will be targeting the semi-finals at the very least and from there, anything is possible.


GERMANY

Previous Euro U21 Champs best: Winners (2009)

Head coach - Horst Hrubesch: Having scored the two goals that saw West Germany win Euro 1980, Hrubesch will be widely respected within the dressing room. He's also proven himself managerially at Under-21 level, with Germany's one triumph coming under his watch in 2009 when rivals England were thrashed 4-0 in the final. The 64-year-old likes to rotate his starting lineups, but regardless of the personnel, his teams win more often than not.

Key player - Kevin Volland

Germany's forward Kevin Volland controls the ball during the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship group B football match between Germany and Spain in the coastal city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, on June 9, 2013© Getty Images

In what is a multi-talented Germany squad, captain Volland is the leader. He shook of the disappointment of not going to last year's World Cup in Brazil by scoring six goals in as many outings during the qualification phase for this tournament. The striker also weighed in with 10 goals last term for Hoffenheim, who have made it clear that they have no intention of selling one of their prized assets during the pre-season break. However, if he were to put in some eye catching performances in the Czech Republic - which he is certainly capable of doing - a transfer to a bigger club is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Sports Mole says: Amazingly, the Germans have only previously won this competition on one occasion. Six years ago they had a squad jammed full of talent as the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Manuel Neuer stole the show. The current crop may not be quite as good, but it is still a strong unit, who are rightly regarded as the favourites to triumph. Providing that they can live up to the expectations, it will take a very good team to beat them.


SERBIA

Previous Euro U21 Champs best: Winners (1978) *As Yugoslavia

Head coach - Mladen Dodic: The 45-year-old may have overseen some mixed results since taking control last year, but in his defence, he has had to contend with the loss of some high quality players for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, while they only finished runners-up to Italy in qualifying, Dodic went on to mastermind a victory in the playoffs over holders Spain. He took the role having earned his spurs with a number of Serbian clubs.

Key player - Milos Jojic

Milos Jojic of Serbia celebrates his first goal in national team during international friendly match between Serbia and Japan at stadium Karadjordje on October 11, 2013© Getty Images

It is been a difficult few months for Jojic at Borussia Dortmund, but this tournament provides the 23-year-old with the opportunity to thrive. In the Bundesliga, he was played in the centre of midfield, whereas Dodic is happy to let Jojic play in a more natural wide position. Out there he can be more unpredictable, helped by the fact that he is comfortable using either foot.

Sports Mole says:

Like Jojic, Serbia are a difficult proposition to read. On their day they are capable of beating any team, as proven against Spain late last year. But, in the same qualification process, they were also defeated by lowly Cyprus. It makes it tough to decide what should be regarded as par for the Serbs, although they will probably have aspirations of reaching the last four.


Group A fixtures

Wednesday, June 17
Czech Republic vs. Denmark
Germany vs. Serbia

Saturday, June 20
Serbia vs. Czech Republic
Germany vs. Denmark

Tuesday, June 23
Czech Republic vs. Germany
Denmark vs. Serbia

Prediction: 1. Germany 2. Denmark 3. Czech Republic 4. Serbia


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Sami Khedira in action for Germany against Italy on November 15, 2013.
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City27212474205465
2Liverpool26205159154465
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs26200654252960
4Manchester UnitedMan Utd26156552351751
5Arsenal26155653371650
6Chelsea26155645291650
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2611693433139
8Watford2610793434037
9Everton2796123639-333
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2696113239-733
11Bournemouth26103133747-1033
12Leicester CityLeicester2695123134-332
13Crystal Palace2676132734-727
14Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2676132839-1127
15Burnley2676132947-1827
16Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2667132234-1225
17Cardiff CityCardiff2674152447-2325
18Southampton2659122844-1624
19Fulham2645172558-3317
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2625191448-3411

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