Steve Cooper leads Young Lions into Croatia Cup test

Thursday 22 Sep 2016
Steve Cooper

England Under-17s boss Steve Cooper believes this month’s Croatia Cup will set his squad up well for further challenges this season.

The Young Lions head to the Adriatic coast next week to take part in a tournament featuring the host nation Croatia, Germany and Greece, with three games in five days.

That is the standard schedule which Cooper’s side will face in their Euro Qualifiers in late October, and potentially in the Elite Round and Euro Finals should they progress.

The Croatia Cup

Croatia v England
5.30pm (BST), Wednesday 28 September
Stadium Aldo Drosina, Pula

England v Greece
12noon (BST), Friday 30 September
Stadium Laco, Novigrad

Germany v England 
11am (BST), Monday 3 October 
Stadium Aldo Drosina, Pula

And Cooper believes the games in Croatia will help his squad prepare for when they face hosts Romania, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in their next meet up later that month.

"It’s a four-team tournament, which is the same format for the First Qualifying Round and the Elite Round, should we get there," revealed Cooper.

"If we’re fortunate enough and play well enough to qualify for the Euro Finals, then the group stages there are a four-team tournament. 

"So we need to be good and become experts at playing in these situations so we know what it takes to play well and progress through and we will be talking to the players about that."

Last season was Cooper’s first campaign in charge of the U17s, after taking over from John Peacock.

The former Liverpool Academy coach oversaw the team through both the First Qualifying Round and Elite Round to reach the Finals in Azerbaijan.

But after topping their group stage, England were narrowly knocked out by Spain in the quarter final to leave Cooper and his team heartbroken. 

Now, he’s looking forward to having another crack at what will be the first taste of a UEFA competition for this new group of players.

"I think the qualifying stages are a bit different to the actual finals, there’s no doubt about that," he explained.

England Under-16s won the Nike International Tournament 2015

This season's U17s features a number of last season's U16s. who won the Nike International Tournament

"Whilst we’re working with the team on joining up all of the events, the qualifying stages give you a different test.

"The Finals give you something different again, as there’s more scrutiny on the players and less room for error with the marginal gains and decisive moments being more important.

"So it’s very much about understanding that and developing a bit more pressure on the lads as we go.

"But what is really important in all of these events that we go to is that we stick to our plan, which is to play within the DNA and have a really good culture and environment around the players so that whatever situation they find themselves in, they will be capable of dealing with it.

"We want the players get a really good understanding of what each event and each moment brings to them so they are well equipped to deal with it."

Cooper’s squad meet up at St. George’s Park on Friday before flying out to Croatia at the weekend. They will face Croatia in Pula on Wednesday 28 October, Greece in Novigrad on Friday 30 October before playing Germany in their final match in Pula on Monday 3 October.

By Nicholas Veevers