With 37 teams ready to compete for eight places in the 2013 finals – to be hosted by one of the eight qualifiers – the eighth edition of the UEFA Regions' Cup promises to be another triumph for Europe's top amateur footballers.
Launched in its current guise in 1999, the six editions of the competition have contained a curious mix of non-professional players: from those using it as a stage to catch the eye of clubs from the higher echelons, to old-timers crowning their days in the game with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Full-time solicitors in their 30s rub shoulders with teenage strikers looking to make a name for themselves, creating an eclectic atmosphere in and around the team hotels and at match venues.
The UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee's first vice-chairman Jim Boyce has long been an advocate of perhaps the least known of UEFA's competitions, telling UEFA.com: "I've said many times that I think the Regions' Cup has been a tremendous innovation by UEFA. It is for players who never dreamt they would have the opportunity of playing in a European competition – to them it's like their World Cup dream."
Javier Yepes, who won the 2009 event in Croatia as coach of Castilla y Léon AMA, knows just how important the UEFA Regions' Cup is for those involved, and also praised the unique atmosphere at the finals, saying: "The friendships that were developed with players and trainers of other teams throughout the competition made the football extra special. These are the special things about amateur football."
However, while that Olympian ideal is a crucial feature of the tournament's success, the UEFA Regions' Cup is also a valuable rung on the European ladder for new referees. Having officiated in the 2007 final in Bulgaria, Italian official Paolo Tagliavento has gone on to take control of games in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds and the UEFA Europa League group stage.
The referee observer at the 2009 finals, Robert B Valentine – himself a referee between 1954 and 1988 – told UEFA.com that the UEFA Regions' Cup was "very important" for the participating match officials: "I have no doubt that five or seven years from today, some of those teams taking part in this Regions' Cup will look at the TV and say: 'I remember that referee, he was at the Regions' Cup.'"
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