The road towards UEFA EURO 2016 in France is now open, with 53 teams striving to join the hosts in the first 24-team final round. The latest edition of the official UEFA publication UEFA•direct looks at the qualifying draw in Nice, and a number of new elements that will make the qualifiers more attractive than ever before.
February's draw ceremony in Nice gave an early taste of what to expect, and threw up some fascinating tussles in the qualifying competition's nine groups. UEFA•direct looks at the highlights of an eventful day on the Côte d'Azur.
National-team football is looking towards a bright future thanks to several innovative decisions by UEFA – a topic covered by UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino in his editorial column. The 'Week of Football' concept, across two series of European Qualifiers, for UEFA EURO 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the centralisation of these qualifiers, have been the catalyst. Mr Infantino said: "Thanks to UEFA's member associations, European national team football now has the platform on which to build for the long term, to reinforce its identity in the hearts and minds of fans across the continent."
Futsal also takes pride of place in the latest edition. The most recent UEFA final round brought the crème de la crème of European futsal players to Antwerp, Belgium for the Futsal EURO 2014. UEFA•direct describes how Italy – champions for the first time in 2003 – clinched their second title by defeating Russia in the final of a tournament packed with entertainment, and organised in superb style by the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA-KBVB). Turning to the club scene, the forthcoming UEFA Futsal Cup finals in Baku, Azerbaijan promise to be a showpiece occasion, and the various merits of the finalists – hosts Araz Naxçivan, holders Kairat Almaty, FC Barcelona and FC Dynamo – are examined in depth.
UEFA's newest competition reached its climax this week – the Colovray Stadium in Nyon, opposite UEFA's western Swiss headquarters, staged the inaugural UEFA Youth League finals, at the end of the competition’s excellent first season. Spectators and observers were on hand to view many of the stars of tomorrow. UEFA•direct flags up the success of this fledgling competition's first campaign.
Staying with the theme of youth, UEFA is giving young girl and boy players a crucial early taste of international experience through its European development tournaments – responding to feedback from the national associations. This exciting project gives young talents the chance to play competitive national-team matches on their career pathway, and UEFA•direct gives an insight into UEFA's reasoning for launching the venture.
Madrid proved to be an ideal setting for the sixth UEFA Medical Symposium, and events at this keynote gathering are put into perspective in UEFA•direct, given the increasing importance of medicine in the modern-day game. A fascinating range of topics were on the agenda, including treatment and diagnosis of injuries, injury recovery and rehabilitation, nutrition, UEFA's elite club injury study, the fight against doping, and the UEFA football doctor education programme exchanging medical know-how across Europe. The article delves into each item in detail.
The question of access to football matches for disabled football fans is a key issue today, and UEFA•direct looks at the work being undertaken by UEFA's social responsibility partner CAFE, the Centre for Access to Football in Europe. With UEFA's help, CAFE is working hard to improve the matchday experience for disabled spectators, and the result is a greater awareness of their needs, and hopes for even further progress in the future.
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