TheFA.com's Nicholas Veevers blogs ahead of the Euro Finals in France.
So, it’s the eve of our journey to northern France and attention within the camp is now firmly focused on what lies ahead in the Finals of the UEFA European U19 Championship Finals, starting this weekend.
The squad have been together at the University Of Warwick since Monday preparing for the competition, following on from a three day training camp last month, and will fly to Paris on Thursday morning before things get into full swing for Sunday’s opening match against Austria in Flers.
Having been a part of the U19 squad travelling to the Euro Finals for TheFA.com for the last two years myself, there has been one noticably obvious difference this time around and that is the media attention that has been centred on the prospects of our team this year.
Thursday saw the pre-tournament media day and with camera crews from the BBC, ITV, Sky Sports, FATV and the Press Association, there should be plenty of coverage around over the next few days, whilst there was a large representation from the national press too so keep your eyes open for the previews between now and Sunday. To put things in perspective, the last two years have seen just a handful of inquiries and calls ahead of our departure and not a great deal of interest whilst out there.
This is despite it being a relatively successful few years for all of the England development teams. This is the third successive year that the U19s have reached the last eight of Europe’s elite, which is no mean feat in itself, and they were losing Finalists in last year’s competition against hosts Ukraine.
As well as that, the U17s came back from Liechtenstein in May as European Champions and the Under-21s were Finalists last year too, where they came up against an impressive German team in Sweden.
Whilst much has been said about Germany’s development process and younger players in light of their impressive World Cup, the fact remains that Horst Hrubesch's U19 team didn’t even make it to this year’s Finals so that puts into perspective just how competitive football is at this level.
With at least three intense, international games in the space of six days, as opposed to the typical pre-season warm up matches with their clubs, all of the players involved are certain to return home in more than good shape for the start of the season and this is a fact that has often been overlooked domestically.
There are four players in this group who were part of the squad which reached the Final last year and three of them, Nathan Delfouneso, Declan Rudd and Matthew Briggs, spoke to the press along with Head Coach Noel Blake today, about how they hope the experience of 2009 can help them this time around in what is undoubtedly a tough group containing the hosts France, Austria and Holland too.
Hopes remain high though and Blake is more than happy with the group of players at his disposal, although it was unfortunate that one member was ruled out of the trip to Normandy earlier today.
Blackburn Rovers’ Jason Lowe picked up an ankle injury in training on Tuesday and after treatment and assessment here, he was sadly ruled out and returned to his club this morning. He will be replaced in the squad by Sunderland’s Ryan Noble, who will arrive on Wednesday evening.
The spirit in the group remains high though, and once we have arrived in France, it will start to dawn on everyone just how near the Finals are after a season of qualifying which began last October.
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