Belfast Telegraph

Craigan's boys learn route to Euro finals

By Stuart McKinley

Northern Ireland will have to get past a strong Netherlands outfit if they are going to make the finals of the European Under-19 Championship.

They will also face Poland and Ukraine, with the group winners progressing to the finals in Germany next summer.

Two seasons ago, the Dutch were beaten finalists in the Under-17 final and some of those players made the step up to reach the Under-19 finals tournament earlier this year, when they only lost out on a semi-final place on goal difference when all four teams in the group finished level on four points.

A number of the players from that 2013 Under-17 squad are now mainstays of the Under-19 side and not only will they provide stern opposition for Stephen Craigan's young Northern Ireland team, the Dutch will also host the tournament next March.

The Netherlands had a straightforward task in reaching the Elite stage, beating Gibraltar and Liechtenstein and drawing with France.

Poland beat Bulgaria and Cyprus and drew with Luxembourg in their first stage group to progress as group winners.

Ukraine will be a tough prospect after they came through a difficult group, beating Azerbaijan and Bosnia to qualify with a game to spare, which they subsequently lost 4-3 to Turkey, despite leading 3-0 after half an hour.

Northern Ireland won't fear anyone though after beating Norway and drawing with hosts Russia to make the Elite stage.

The first stage qualification groups for next season's tournaments were also made yesterday and Northern Ireland will host their Under-17 group.

Uefa Under-19 Championships 2016 Elite qualifying (24-29 March): Netherlands (hosts), Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine.

Uefa Under-19 Championships 2017 qualifying (6-11 Oct 2016): Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Poland (hosts), Slovakia.

Uefa Under-17 Championships 2017 qualifying (19-24 Sept 2016): Northern Ireland (hosts), San Marino, Slovakia, Spain.

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