The six European qualifiers for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 have been decided, following the group stage of matches at the UEFA U-19 Championship in the Czech Republic.
Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain and England have all booked their places at the world finals next year, after finishing in the top three of their respective groups.
The Germans, under former international star Horst Hrubesch, won all three of their games in the group stage. Hungary also managed to seal qualification for Egypt after two games, beating both Bulgaria and Spain by a single goal in their opening fixtures.
Bulgaria and Spain were both out of contention for the tournament semi-finals when they met in the final round of group matches, but a win for either side would ensure them a ticket to Egypt. In the event, Spain ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
England leave it late
In a much tighter Group B, all four teams were in with a chance not only of qualifying for Egypt but of progressing to the tournament semi-finals going into the last group match. The Czechs, with a win and a draw from their opening two encounters, were safely through to Egypt, but Italy and Greece, on two points apiece, could both overtake the hosts with a win. England, with only one point, needed a win to stay in the reckoning.
Italy duly beat the hosts 4-3 to finish top of Group B, while England ruined Greece's chances of appearing at the world finals with a 3-0 victory in the other game. England and the Czechs thus finished on four points apiece, but the Czech Republic advanced to the semi-finals by virtue of their earlier win against the English.
"There are mixed emotions really," England coach Brian Eastick told FIFA.com after the game. "On the one hand, we're delighted to qualify for the World Cup, but on the other, there's disappointment at not reaching the semis of this event."
Germany will face the hosts in Mlada Boleslav on Wednesday in the first semi-final, while Italy meet Hungary in Plzen later the same day.