England head coach Noel Blake says Young Lions are ready for U19s qualifying campaign
England U19s head coach Noel Blake says his Young Lions face a tough test as they prepare to get their UEFA European U19s Championship qualifying campaign under way – but remains confident his current crop have what it takes to progress.
Blake’s side are in Slovenia for the first round of qualification - which begins on Thursday - and have been drawn in a group alongside their hosts, as well as Switzerland and Andorra. The manager says they are under no illusions as to the quality of opposition they face.
He said: "I always say this because it’s a fact. There’s never any easy games at international level no matter who you play against, contrary to what other people may think.
"We can, however, make it easy for ourselves by doing the right things more often than not."
Blake has first-hand experience of two of England’s three opponents in Group 9 and says he has made everyone aware of the challenges they face.
"We take nothing for granted. Switzerland are on a high at the moment with regard to their youth development teams - their 1992 group won the U17s World Cup in 2009, for example.
"Eighteen months ago in our 1993 year group we had Switzerland and Slovenia in the Elite Round in Montenegro, and it was a very tough group. I’ve been emphasising that point to the lads."
England begin their campaign on Thursday against the hosts and Blake – who also has experience of playing against Slovenia in front of home support - emphasised that his side need to hit the ground running when their campaign begins.
"My first encounter with Slovenia was in Slovenia with the 1991 group," he said. "It was a tough fixture – they’re very passionate people. Any nation that plays on their home soil is always going to be difficult.
"But I firmly believe in everyone here, and I’ve told the players that.
"If they apply themselves in the way I expect them to apply themselves and continue what I’ve seen of them in training then only us can stop ourselves in my opinion."
Following Thursday’s game against Slovenia, England then take on Andorra on Saturday before finishing the campaign against Switzerland on Tuesday 15 October.
The top two teams from each of the 13 groups and the third-placed team with the best record against the leading pair progress to the Elite Round in Spring 2014.
From that seven teams will emerge to join hosts Hungary in the Finals in the summer of 2014.