Young Lions prepare for Friday's European Championship Finals draw.
UEFA European U19 Championships
By Nicholas Veevers
Head Coach Noel Blake guided his team through the potentially tricky terrain of an Elite Qualifying Round in Ukraine last week, and is now focusing firmly on the European U19 Championship Finals in France.
The Young Lions finished top of their group on Monday after collecting the draw they needed against hosts and reigning Euro champions Ukraine and Blake feels his team fully deserved to seal their place in the last eight of the competition following wins over Republic Of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and then the point against Ukraine.
“You’re in the Elite Round and you know that only one team can qualify from the group of four, so that’s your only aim, to be the best and get through,” he told TheFA.com.
“That’s exactly what we were and I have no qualms in saying that I think we could quite easily have won all three games even more comfortably so I feel we deserve to be going to the Finals.”
After arriving back from Kiev on Tuesday, Blake is now about to hit the road for Friday’s draw in Caen in northern France as preparations begin for July’s Finals in Normandy.
With possible opposition in the shape of hosts France and Spain, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Croatia and Austria, Blake knows it certainly won’t be easy for England and thoughts have already turned to possible opponents.
“There’s no doubt that it will be a very tough group whoever we draw,” added Blake, who has been involved in the last two U19 Finals as assistant coach before becoming Head Coach for this season.
“You look at the teams in there, and it’s perhaps a surprise that Germany aren’t in the Finals, but that shows just what a high standard it will be.
“We’ll be playing against the best out there and it’s a going to be a good test which we’re looking forward to already.”
The format of the Finals sees two groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the semi-finals, but Blake is taking things one step at a time.
“The first thing is to head over there for the draw, then to see the hotels and facilities, before thinking about a training camp for the players and further preparations.
“When we get to the Finals, the first objective has to be to get through the group stage. We know it’s going to be very tough but we have to get on with it.”
Another pleasing aspect for Blake is that this is the third successive year in which the U19s have reached the last eight of the U19s Championship which means a whole generation of young English players have tasted life at the sharp end of a competition.
“It’s always a decent experience for the players, as the more we can get involved in Finals like this, the better the experience for the future.
“We’re bridging the gap a little bit, and we just need to jump the final hurdle, as the U17s did on Sunday.
“We got to the Final of last year’s U19 Championships, so we weren’t too far away then, and hopefully that will be the case again.”