The International Challenge Trophy defence is to start in Helsinki in November.
Finland C v England C
International Challenge Trophy
Wednesday 14 November 2007
Finnair Stadium, HJK Helsinki FC
England C side begin their defence of the International Challenge Trophy this season, starting with a tricky away match against Finland in November.
Drawn in Group A in the enlarged competition, Paul Fairclough’s team will also face Wales at home in February before finishing their group fixtures with a visit to Italy in November 2008. In Group B will be Belgium, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia. The Group winners will meet in the Final in February 2009.
The competition will again be at Under 23 level with the cut-off date for player eligibility being January 1 1984. Players eligible at that date will be able to continue through until the completion of the competition.
England will draw some comfort from the very impressive performance of a young side in June when they defeated Finland 1-0 in Valkeakoski, so it is something of a coincidence that the team must return there for their first match in Group.
Not only that, but they will have to follow the Senior side in having to contend with an artificial surface as the fixture is scheduled for the impressive Finnair Stadium, the home of HJK Helsinki.
The fixture against Wales is scheduled for Wednesday 20 February, with the venue yet to be confirmed.
Fairclough knows that his side had been given a challenging group, but is looking forward to what lies in store as England look to retain their title.
“We know about the Finns who have become a stronger since we met them in June,” he said.
“Going to Helsinki in November and playing on an artificial pitch will be an education in itself, but the Tournament is developing into everything that we had hoped for and we have an exciting 12 months ahead of us.
“The increase in the number of teams taking part is also encouraging and bodes well for the future.”
The FA’s Leagues Manager Mike Appleby, who has been instrumental in getting the tournament off the ground, is pleased that the entries have increased although expressed disappointment at the late withdrawal of the Netherlands.
“This initially left Group B with only three national sides. The Netherlands have been competing at this level for many years and we were sad to lose them, especially at such a late stage.
“We are thankful therefore for the late interest shown by the Slovakian FA and are delighted to welcome them into the competition.”
Hopes are also high that there will be a further increase in teams in the future, as the competition grows ever more popular.
“There was a great deal of interest from a number of National Associations and we are confident that we will have a further increase in numbers for the 2009/2011 Tournament,” added Appleby.