Cymru MU17 will make history on Wednesday, 17 May (7pm), when they take to the field at the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion in Budapest to face Hungary in their opening match of the 2023 UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals.
It was back in 1981 that Cymru last qualified and competed at the finals of a UEFA men’s intermediate team tournament as an U18 squad featuring Mark Hughes headed to Germany. Despite claiming victories over Greece and Belgium, the side finished runners-up in their group behind hosts West Germany, and history will repeat itself this time around with Craig Knight’s squad again coming up against the hosts 40 years later, together with the Republic of Ireland and Poland in Group A.
“It’s going to be tough facing the hosts,” explained Knight about the challenge of the Hungarians when he announced his squad last week. “The Republic of Ireland have done really, really well to qualify from their group, topping a group that contained Italy, so they’re going to be a tough challenge but one that we’re relishing, and then Poland, who are on quite an unbeaten run at the moment.
“But we’re also eight games unbeaten and at international level that’s no mean feat, so the players will go into this tournament full of confidence, knowing they can compete and have a right go. We won’t change anything and we will prepare exactly the same. I know if we do that we will be competitive in games and we will see where that takes us.”
Cymru’s qualifying campaign for the finals began in Croatia back in October last year. A 2-0 win over the hosts in the opening match proved to be crucial as draws with Sweden and Albania followed, but Cymru would finish a point ahead of Croatia to win the group and qualify for the Elite round. Cymru would host the Elite round in March, and after defeating Scotland 4-2 in Newport the side were held to draws by Iceland and Montenegro, but remained undefeated and qualified for the finals as group winners together with runners-up Scotland.
“I can’t wait for it to start now”,Craig Knight
“It was really difficult to select the squad. We’ve got a group of players who are delighted and what an adventure they have to look forward to, and on the flip-side of that you have the boys who have missed out even though they have contributed to where we are now. This group are really tight, they enjoy each others company and they back each other. Hopefully that will continue in this tournament.”
Following the opening match against Hungary, Cymru will take on the Republic of Ireland at the Pancho Aréna in Felcsút on Saturday, 20 May (3.30pm) before facing Poland at the Budaörsi Városi Stadion in Budarös in their final Group A match on Tuesday, 23 May (7pm). While qualification for the finals is a significant achievement in itself, Knight believes the tournament can also inspire the next generation, just as the Cymru senior men’s side did to his current squad in the summer of 2016 when Chris Coleman’s side reached the semi-finals of the EURO finals.
“You talk about legacy and look at Euro 2016 and what players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey did there,” Knight explained. “These boys would have been eight, nine, 10 years of age at the time watching the tournament and that success would have resonated with them. It’s a real chance for these boys to perform on an international stage and that should motivate them and the players at home.”
The top two in each group will advance to the knockout phase with the final taking place on Friday, 2 June. The tournament will also act as UEFA’s qualifier for the 2023 FIFA MU17 World Cup later this year, with the four semi-finalists earning a place along with the winners of a play-off for Europe’s fifth spot between the two defeated quarter-finalists with the best group stage record.
Cymru MU17: Alfie CUNNINGHAM (Exeter City), Alfie TUCK (Queens Park Rangers), Brayden CLARKE (Wolves), Charlie CREW (Leeds United), Cody TWOSE (Cardiff City), Dan COX (Derby County), Dylan LAWLOR (Cardiff City), Freddie ISSAKA (Plymouth Argyle), Gabriele BIANCHERI (Manchester United), George MORGAN (Everton), Iwan MORGAN (Swansea City), Jacob COOK (Swansea City), Joe ANDREWS (Southampton), Joe HATCH (Plymouth Argyle), Josh BEECHER (Cardiff City), Kit MARGETSON (Swansea City), Lewys BENJAMIN (Cardiff City), Luey GILES (Cardiff City), Luke ARMSTRONG (Cardiff City), Rhys THOMAS (Manchester City), Sam PARKER (Swansea City), Troy PERRETT (Cardiff City).