The 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship takes place in Poland from the 16th to the 30th of June, 2017. Matches will take place across seven different stadia in seven different cities across the country. Sweden are the current holders of the competition after defeating Portugal on penalties in June’s final of the 2015 edition in Prague.
For the first time in the tournament’s history, the 2017 edition will see twelve teams competing, unlike the previous ones, which saw eight compete. The nine group winners will automatically qualify for the tournament, where they will join Poland in the finals.
Out of the nine groups, only the four best runners-up qualify for the two-legged play-offs, with the two winners qualifying. Results against the side finishing sixth in the group do not count in the ranking of second-placed teams, as two of the groups only have five teams.
The Scotland U21 side has not qualified for the European Under-21 Championship since 1996, although they reached the play-offs for the 2004 and 2011 editions, but were unable to overcome Croatia and Iceland respectively.
Scotland's Group (Group 3)
Group 3 includes France, a squad with many talented players, including Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman and their captain, Aymeric Laporte of Alteltic Bilbao. Iceland could be considered an up-and-coming footballing nation, but with their senior side reaching the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France next summer, their youth team will be confident. Their under-21 side also played at the 2011 Under-21 Championship in Denmark, where they qualified by beating Scotland in the play-offs.
Also in Group 3 is Ukraine, who also reached the 2011 edition of the tournament, FYR Macedonia will provide tricky opposition to the Scots, with recent results improving, and Northern Ireland, another team whose senior side has qualified for Euro 2016 next summer.
Group 3 so far
The group got underway in June, as Iceland got their campaign off to a winning start with a comfortable 3-0 home win against Macedonia in Reykjavik.
Scotland’s first game was an away trip against Northern Ireland on the 5th of September. The game at Lurgan’s Mourneview Park saw the Scots win by two goals to one. Northern Ireland took an early lead through Mikhail Kennedy’s goal, but goals from Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser ensured the Scots got off to the perfect start.
The same day also saw two shocks in the group, as Iceland beat France 3-2 at home andh Macedonia beating Ukraine 1-0, also at home. Three days later Iceland were then held at home to Northern Ireland in a 1-1 draw.
October’s qualifiers got underway as Iceland secured an away 1-0 victory in Ukraine. Two days later on the 10th of October, France beat Scotland 2-1 at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen, as a Stephen Kingsley's own goal and a Corentin Tolisso strike secured the win for France in front of a crowd of 3,025. Billy King scored a late consolation goal for the Scots, in a match in which Sporting Lisbon’s Ryan Gauld was sent off.
The 13th of October saw Scotland face group leaders Iceland at Pittodrie. In front of a crowd of 1,985, Scotland had many chances to win the match, but a good defensive performance from Iceland saw Scotland being able to only get a point from the match. Elsewhere in the group, France beat Ukraine 2-0 in Strasbourg, while Macedonia defeated Northern Ireland 2-1 in Lurgan.
At the present time, Scotland sit fourth in Group 3, with four points out of a possible nine. The Scots are seven points behind Iceland, although have two games in hand. Iceland are the only unbeaten side so far in the group, with eleven points, while France are second on six points, along with Macedonia in third. Northern Ireland have a point, while Ukraine have lost all three of their matches so far.
Scotland’s remaining fixtures
Up next for Scotland is a vital match on the 13th of November against Ukraine at St. Mirren Park in Paisley, which is seen as a must-win match for the Scots. Scotland must then wait until March for their next qualifiers, as they place France away on the 25th of March, before facing Northern Ireland at home on the 29th.
Scotland face a double-header in September next year, as the Scots face Macedonia at home on the 2nd, with Ukraine away on the 6th. Then next October, Scotland play Iceland away on the 5th, with the group finishing with an away trip to Macedonia on the 8th.
Overview of the campaign so far
A mixed start to the campaign for Scotland so far. A good away victory in Northern Ireland, a defeat, despite a good performance against France, while a draw against Iceland in a match that should have been won. The next match against Ukraine is vital for the Scots, with a win a must if Scoland, at least, want to finish second and have a chance of a play-off spot.
There is a lot of good quality players in the U21 pool, with Callum Paterson and Ryan Gauld already having been in Gordon Strachan’s senior squad. New captain John McGinn has impressed in the centre of the park for the Scots, whilst Ryan Christie and Sam Nicholson have caused the opposition problems with their attacking flair.
With the Scotland senior team unfortunately not qualifying for Euro 2016, or at least the play-offs, this gives the U21 players a good chance of making the step up to the senior squad in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers that begin next September. Also, Hull City defender Andrew Robertson could return to the U21 squad from the senior squad to help the team in the qualifiers for Poland.
Elsewhere in qualifying
At the moment eight teams find themselves having made a perfect start. They are Belgium, Italy, Serbia, Portugal, Croatia, Germany, Austria, and England.
England find themselves two from two in a group with Norway, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
The other home nations find themselves in contrasting groups. The Republic of Ireland have one of the hardest groups as they currently sit behind unbeaten Serbia and Italy, and with Slovenia a place behind them on joint points. Wales though are unbeaten from three in a group with Bulgaria, Romania, and Denmark. At present, they look in good shape to form a real challenge for the top spot.
The last group matches take place in October 2016, with the play-off matches taking place in November, 2016.