Aidy Boothroyd is aware of the ‘massive strengths’ his new opponents possess after England Men's Under-21s were drawn alongside Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland for the 2021 U21 EURO Finals.
The Young Lions were placed in Group D on Thursday night ahead of next year’s tournament which will take place across two separate international windows in March and June.
Boothroyd’s side qualified for the finals unbeaten and top of the group with nine wins and one draw and will be among the favourites for the tournament next year.
But their opponents will be no walk in the park having each finished runners-up in their respective groups and Boothroyd is well aware of the challenge his players are likely to face.
Speaking after the draw in Nyom, Switzerland he said: “When I saw the group, I looked at everybody and thought: ‘They’ve all got massive strengths’”.
“Croatia are always a very strong side. They missed out on winning their group by one goal, so you can see that they are a very fine side, producing some wonderful players and playing in a really stylish manner.
“That will be a very, very tough game for us.
“We’ve got quite a few Portuguese footballers in our country at the moment so we know the way they play, the way they want to play.
“It will be a very difficult game for us too. But, looking down that group there, I don’t see any easy games at all.”
Boothroyd's squad will play their group games in Slovenia, starting against Switzerland on Thursday 25 March, before facing Portugal three days later on Sunday 28 March. The final game with Croatia will take place on Wednesday 31 March with venues and kick-off times to be confirmed in due course.
England were back-to-back winners in 1982 and 1984 but haven’t won the tournament since, although have had significant success in other age groups in recent years winning both the Under-19 Euros and Under-20 World Cup in 2017.
Spain and Germany have had a ten-year stronghold on the Under-21 tournament winning five of the last six tournaments between them but Boothroyd’s focus remains on the first part of the competition for now.
“We’ve had unprecedented success for the English FA, over the last few years,” he said.
“But the important thing is about longevity, it’s about being good and at the top for a long period of time, rather than just being a shooting star.
“We’ll be as competitive as we can, and we want to be there in May. But, we realise that we’ve got some very tough opponents to get past to get to May.”
Eddie Nketiah finished qualifying as top goalscorer with 13 goals in nine games breaking Alan Shearer’s all-time record for the Under-21s in the process.
The Arsenal striker was also captain for the near-perfect campaign and Boothroyd hopes he will again be available for selection when the finals roll around.
“He’s broken our scoring record for the Under-21s. He’s the captain of our team because of the way he conducts himself, what he’s like off the pitch as well as on it,” he added.
“I think we’ve got a really good player on our hands and we just hope that he stays fit and well.
“As we do all our players and hope that we can come over in March with a really strong team, a really strong squad, obviously depending on what the senior team need.”