Croatia and Greece have staged successful UEFA development tournaments giving boy and girl footballers the chance to gain competitive international experience.
UEFA's international development tournaments, which are giving boy and girl footballers from across Europe the opportunity to taste a championship environment, are proving a resounding success.
As part of UEFA's ongoing efforts to advance football throughout the continent, and in response to feedback received from UEFA member associations, UEFA has set up the development tournaments to offer young footballing talents an additional chance to play competitive international matches.
The latest boys' and girls' Under-16 events have taken place in Umag (Croatia) and Chalkida (Greece). Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were the participants in Umag; Greece, Malta, Israel and Azerbaijan featured in Chalkida. The U16 age category has been selected as UEFA feels this is a vitally important stage in a player's development pathway to the elite level. Such matches, as well as the preparation they involve, are crucial in facilitating the process of player development.
Croatian Football Federation (HNS) president Davor Šuker was a keen follower of the Umag tournament. "We enjoyed a wonderful tournament which showcased an excellent standard of play for this age group," he said. "We are grateful to UEFA for all their help in organising this competition, which fulfilled our expectations and satisfied everybody involved, including Croatia and the visiting teams."
"The tournament met all expectations, both organisational and technical," added Romeo Jozak, head of the HNS technical department and UEFA technical instructor. "The participating teams are extremely satisfied with the experience that players of this age are gaining from these tournaments. It's a win-win situation for everyone. UEFA's decision to organise development competitions is great."
The tournaments are true learning experiences. Not only do they fine-tune skills through practice and guidance, they also allow youngsters to appreciate an international and highly competitive atmosphere – and to share the moment with peers from other countries.
"This tournament provided an excellent opportunity for players to acquire new international experience," said UEFA's technical observer at the Greek event, Ghenadie Scurtul. "The coaches also had the opportunity to check new players and new ideas. As for the host association, it's a great chance to get experience in match organisation at UEFA level."
"It's really important for us to participate in these tournaments because players this young seldom get such opportunities," added Greece coach Vangelis Koutsakis. "The experience is unique for our girls – we see it in their faces every day, and it would be wonderful if such tournaments were held more often."
"Playing against such opponents is a good opportunity to check our level of football," Malta coach Pierre Brincat explained. "This experience will help my team as a unit, because it's practically their first experience of international football. It's great for us coaches to work with them at a younger age and to see them start competing much younger."
The excitement of getting to know new colleagues and playing in an international environment was also felt by the players. "On Saturday when we came to Chalkida, we started talking on the bus, getting introduced and trying to find out more about each other," said Greece player Athanasia Moraitou. "After the first training sessions, we got more familiar with each other, beginning to learn about our team-mates as footballers too."
"These tournaments help us improve a lot, getting to compete against great players," Malta's Brenda Borg reflected. "It is an exciting experience. We play as a team and we believe in each other."
The U16 development tournaments are also designed to prepare the way for players to move into the U17 age group, where European competition commences in earnest. Further UEFA U16 development events for boys and girls are planned in the coming months:
7–16 April: Spain
7–16 April: Romania
10–19 April: Wales
11–15 April: Poland (boys only)
15–20 April: Bulgaria
29 April–8 May: Latvia
6–15 May: Republic of Ireland
20–29 May: Belarus
20–29 May: Hungary
15–22 June: Albania
20–24 August: Poland (girls only)
In addition, UEFA development tournaments are also being played at women's U17 level:
24–27 April: Moldova
8–12 May: Lithuania
12–15 May: Israel
13–17 May: FYROM
19–23 June: Estonia
21–25 June: Serbia
26–29 June: Ukraine