UEFA is intensifying its efforts to improve the organisation of its European youth competition finals by staging preparatory friendly tournaments in the host countries in future.
European football's governing body considers such friendly tournaments as an ideal dress rehearsal, providing the opportunity for organisers to familiarise themselves with the facilities and services provided, and to rectify any weaknesses and problems.
In addition, the friendly tournaments could be used to kick off promotional activities for the competitions proper, and demonstrate UEFA's determination to further nurture the youth sector – the vital area in which the stars of tomorrow are put in the shop window for all to see.
UEFA has ruled that any such tournaments must be organised by the competition hosts, who must deploy the same facilities as for the final round – accommodation, stadiums and training grounds. The host nations together with the three teams with the highest coefficients - who only enter qualifying in the second or Elite round - are given priority as regards participation, allowing them friendly international matches in a competitive environment. The participating teams must agree the match schedule among themselves.
Young referees also benefit from friendly tournaments. UEFA appoints three neutral up-and-coming referees whose names do not figure on the FIFA international list, with the aim of giving them valuable international experience. A referee observer and tournament administrator are also appointed.
Northern Irish first
The first friendly tournament of this kind – at Under-19 level - is taking place in Northern Ireland between 19 and 23 February. Ukraine, Scotland and Spain will take part alongside the hosts of this year's UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals, which run from 18–29 July.
For Northern Ireland, this is a perfect opportunity to prepare its own team for the final round, to test some of the facilities, and to train some of the volunteer workers that will be involved in the final tournament," said UEFA youth and amateur competitions manager Claudio Negroni, who expects to see Luxembourg (U17) and Poland (U19) follow suit next year.
The Irish Football Association has appointed Craig Stanfield as tournament director for the finals and he said: "The Irish FA welcome UEFA's initiative in proposing such an event and we are delighted to be involved in organising the inaugural preparatory tournament.
I am sure that the tournament will be of great benefit to the coaches and players of all four participating teams, in particular to the host association, whose competitive opportunities might otherwise be very limited.
"In addition to this essential preparation for the players and further organisational experience for the administrators, we trust that the preparatory tournament will attract the interest of the Northern Ireland public and contribute significantly to the ongoing promotion of the final round in July."
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