THE draw for the Elite Round of the 2012-13 UEFA U17 European Championship Elite Phase took place last week at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon. The group winners will qualify for the finals in Slovakia from May 5 to 17 with the top six teams going forward to the FIFA U17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates from October 17 to November 8.
The U17s were second seeds in the Elite Round draw and were drawn with Serbia, Georgia and hosts Austria. Manager Tom Mohan, in his first campaign, guided the U17s into the Elite Phase as joint winners after finishing level on points and everything else with Sweden in a group that also contained Romania and Macedonia. He is well aware that it is going to be tough to emerge from this Elite Round group.
"It is never going to be easy at this stage of the competition and Serbia will be very strong. They actually beat us at this stage of last year's competition. Georgia were in last year's U17 finals and actually got the semi-final and while I don't know a lot about Austria, at this stage, they'll have the advantage of playing at home. I am happy the group will be played in Austria because Georgia were pushing hard for it to be played out there," said Mohan. "We know now who we are up against and we can start preparing for those games. We'll do that as well as we can and take it from there."
Serbia topped Group 1 in the Qualifying Round with full points after wins over Belarus, Moldova and Armenia and didn't concede a goal while scoring 16 over the three games. Georgia finished second in Group 13 behind Ukraine and ahead of Luxembourg and Scotland whom they beat 3-0. Austria finished second in Group 6, two points behind Switzerland, after beating the Faroe Islands and drawing with Cyprus and Switzerland.
Irelands opening match will be on March 25 against Austria, two days later they face Georgia and end the group against Serbia on March 30. THE Elite Round group stage of the U19 championship will take place in Serbia after their name was pulled out of a hat when agreement couldn't be reached between the four nations on whether to play the group in Serbia or Ireland. The group winners will qualify for the finals in Lithuania from July 20 to August 1.
The FAI was represented at the draws by Milo Corcoran, chairman of the FAI International Committee and U19 manager Paul Doolin who was disappointed that Ireland's bid to host the U19 Elite Round group had failed. "The biggest disappointment for me is the fact that we lost out on hosting the group. I really wanted to have it at home but Serbia wanted to host it too and unfortunately their name was drawn out of the hat," said Doolin.
"Belgrade in June will be hot but at least it is at the end of the season and we will be able to call on all our players. Serbia will be tough, especially at home, we know that Switzerland are good having played their U18s a few weeks ago and I saw Slovakia beat Macedonia 5-1 and 21 before we played Macedonia in our qualifying round.
Serbia, along with holders Spain and Turkey, got a bye into the Elite Round because of their high co-efficient while Switzerland finished five points behind Scotland in Group 9 after beating Armenia, drawing with Romania and losing 4-3 to the Scots. Slovakia finished third in Group 8 after finishing level on six points with Ukraine and Norway and qualified for the Elite Round as one of the best runners-up.
Ireland qualified for the U19 Elite Round after finishing level on points with Germany but losing out for top spot on goal difference in a qualifying group that also contained Macedonia and Luxembourg.
Ireland kick off on June 6 against Switzerland and follow up with games against Slovakia on June 8 and Serbia on June 11.
The FAI, Umbro and Three have announced details of a special Ticket/Jersey package. Adults can buy 2 match tickets (home to Poland and Austria) and get an Ireland Jersey from just €75 (Kids €45). There is also a 4-game package including jersey from €125 Adults and just €59 for kids. Visit www.fai.ie/bundle for details.