Head Coach Noel Blake preparing squad for Elite Round challenge in Lancashire.
By Nicholas Veevers
UEFA European U19 Championship
Elite Qualifying Round
25-30 May 2012
England, Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland
Deepdale, Preston & Spotland, Rochdale
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England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake and his squad met up on Saturday, as preparations intensify ahead of the UEFA European U19 Championship Elite Qualifying Round and he knows the players now face their biggest challenge of the campaign so far.
The Young Lions face games against Slovenia, Montenegro and Switzerland knowing that they need to finish on top of the pile if they are to progress into July's Euro Finals in Estonia.
Blake's side have been unbeaten in all of their six games this season, but after receiving a bye through the First Qualifying Round, these will be the first 'competitive' matches of the season.
"We’ve had six preparation matches this season, and whilst I have been pleased with the progress the group have made, this is where things now really begin to test us," said Blake.
"Competitive tournament football at this level is so different and demanding; that whoever wins this tournament will have deserved to do so.
"This will be a very good test for our young players, and after failing on goal difference to eventual winners Spain at this stage last season, we fully expect we are going to have to be at our best if we are going to progress through to the Finals."
Since Blake picked his squad last month, he has been forced into making two changes with Manchester United winger Larnell Cole withdrawn through injury and defender Luke Garbutt missing as he prepares for the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley with Cheltenham Town. They have been replaced by Liverpool's Jack Dunn and Manchester United's Tom Thorpe respectively.
The squad will also be joined on Monday by Chelsea trio Pat Bamford, Todd Kane and Nathaniel Chalobah, with the latter two having been part of the Blues travelling squad for last weekend's triumphant Champions League trip to Munich.
"Due to club commitments and in some cases injuries, we might be without a few players but if that proves to be the case, it opens up opportunities for others to show what they can do at this level," added Blake, who also had the majority of the squad assembled for a two-day training camp in Cheshire at the start of last week.
"While it’s been pleasing to see a number of players from this year group progressing up to the Under-21s and playing more first team football with their clubs, we feel this is a strong age group of players and we'll make sure they're prepared and focused on this week."