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King: We can win the group.

Byline: PAUL O'HEHIR

IRELAND should get off to a flyer in Under-21 qualifying with back-to-back opening games with bottom seeds Andorra.

And while boss Noel King knows the going will get tougher in the race for the Euro 2017 finals, he wants to top the group.

In Switzerland yesterday, Ireland were paired in Group Two with Italy, Serbia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Andorra.

The nine group winners qualify automatically along with hosts Poland and the four best runners up will go into the play-offs.

Ireland have never qualified for the Under-21 finals but King is confident.

He said: "We have to believe we can get out of the group. Italy and Serbia are major powers so they'll be the top teams.

"But I'll be setting the target of topping the group. I know that's some statement to make but we have to believe we can do it."

Luigi Di Biagio's Italy are five-time winners of this tournament while Serbia have won it before and their squad will comprise of the players that won the Under-19s finals in 2013.

King said: "It's obviously a tough draw because Serbia are European champions at the 1994 age group.

"So the second seed is as strong as any top seed and Italy will always be a top seed level.

"But there's no team in the group that I wouldn't have realistic ambition of getting something from."

The Ireland manager added: "We'll start off against Andorra - we'll be favourites for that but we have to produce a performance to justify that.

"After we play Andorra home and away, we have Lithuania at home and while we'll have to learn more about that, I'd expect we'll be favourites for that too before we play Italy."

FIXTURES: Andorra (H) Mar 26; Andorra (A) Sep 8; Lithuania (H) Oct 9; Italy (A) Oct 13; Lithuania (A) Nov 13; Italy (H) Mar 24; Slovenia (A) Mar 28; Slovenia (H) Sep 2; Serbia (A) Sep 6; Serbia (H) Oct 7.

CAPTION(S):

GROUP FAVOURITES Luigi Di Biagio's Italy

CONFIDENT Ireland Under-21 boss Noel King

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Feb 6, 2015
Words:343
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