Teams flock to Israel in bunches ahead of U21 Euros

Israel hosts Norway next Wednesday in the first match of the 14-day tournament.

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May 31, 2013 00:41
3 minute read.
UEFA Under 21 Championships set to kick off in Israel

UEFA Under 21 Championships 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israel Under-21 national team entered the final stretch of its preparations on Thursday for next week’s European Championship opener against Norway in Netanya.

Israel hosts Norway next Wednesday in the first match of the 14-day tournament, which will be played in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva and Jerusalem, as well as Netanya.

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The blue-and-white will face Italy at Bloomfield Stadium three days after the opener before completing its Group A games versus England at Teddy Stadium on June 11.

Group B will be contested between defending champion Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Russia.

The top two teams from each group will advance to the semifinals to be played on June 15, with the final to take place at Teddy on June 18.

The Dutch team was the first to arrive in Israel, landing at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday.

The Netherlands squad contains 12 players boasting senior honors, with two others, Tonny Trindade de Vilhena and Jeroen Zoet, also being involved with the senior Oranje set-up.

“Our goal is to win the tournament,” said Dutch coach Cor Pot. “Otherwise, we would not even bother travelling to Israel.

To say that we are expected to become European champions is overstating it a bit. We are certainly candidates, but nations like Spain, England, Italy and Germany also have strong squads.”

The Russian team has also already started training in Israel, with Italy and Norway to arrive on Saturday.

Full internationals Marco Verratti of PSG and Mattia Destro of AS Roma are part of the Italy squad, which is also hoping to lift the trophy.

“Both Verratti and Destro are really enthusiastic about being with us and have already understood that our main strength is the group,” said coach Devis Mangia. “We have enough quality to achieve something big in Israel. We will have to focus from the start because our opponents in the group are all very difficult.”

The German and English squads arrive on Sunday, with hot favorite Spain only flying in on Monday.

Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui named an experienced squad, which boasts five players who took part in the successful 2011 campaign, namely Manchester United goalkeeper and U21 captain David de Gea, Barcelona’s Thiago Alcántara and Martín Montoya, as well as Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal’s Diego Mariño.

A recent debutant for the senior Spain team, Málaga’s Isco, along with fellow full international Thiago, will also play in Israel.

“The three national teams we will face in the group stage are all very competitive and contain players with a lot of experience who have featured for their seniors,” said Lopetegui.

“This tournament is a very attractive one and contains some really big names.”

Elsewhere, FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised Palestinians on Wednesday that soccer’s world governing body would help put an end to the long-running problems with Israel.

“I can confirm I will help, FIFA will help. It’s a problem of football,” said Blatter at a conference of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Mauritius before FIFA’s Congress which started on Thursday.

Last week, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said after its Congress in London that European soccer’s governing body was within its rights to award the Under-21 tournament to Israel and would not consider moving it.

But Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestine FA and Palestine Olympic Committee, said the situation had worsened since Blatter and International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge visited the region on separate occasions in 2011 and 2010.

At Rajoub’s request there will be an open debate on the situation at the FIFA Congress on Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report


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