One of the hidden highlights of the UEFA calendar, the UEFA Regions' Cup is Europe's top competition for amateur footballers.
With amateur players making up 95% of those playing in organised matches in Europe, the tournament's aim is to reward excellence among players who have never played professional football at any level. The quality of the play at all the final tournaments has shown that there are plenty of talented players who have always played for love, not money.
A previous tournament for amateurs, the UEFA Amateur Cup, ran every four years between 1966 and 1978 before being abandoned because of a lack of interest from the public and member associations. However, the idea of a pan-European amateur tournament was resurrected in 1996 by the newly formed UEFA Committee for Amateur Football.
The new biennial tournament is open to all 53 of UEFA's member associations, provided they run a domestic championship. Generally, teams are put forward via a domestic qualifying competition on a regional basis – hence the name, Regions' Cup – although smaller associations are allowed to submit a national representative team.
The first UEFA Regions Cup was played in 1999. After a qualifying round involving 32 teams, the eight mini-tournament winners met in Veneto, in northern Italy, where the host team won the trophy by defeating Madrid 3-2 in the final.
The format of the competition has remained relatively stable since then, with a series of qualifying mini-tournaments being held to provide enough teams for an eight-team final round. With rising interest in the tournament, a preliminary round was introduced for the 2005 tournament.
The end result is an eight-team final round which is divided up into two groups. The four teams in each group play each other once in a league format with the teams that finish top of the two tables after the third and final game of the group stage taking each other on in the final.
As with the professional tournaments, if the finals are level after 90 minutes, extra-time and then a penalty shoot-out are used to separate the teams. Only three of the six finals to date have been concluded in normal time - a sign that the game is as competitive at amateur level as at the highest professional levels.
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