The UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals in Northern Ireland have proved an interesting experience for UEFA technical observers Gerhard Hitzel and Roy Millar, who have been closely watching throughout.
Hitzel works for the Austrian Football Association's technical department, and within that is responsible for coach education. Millar, meanwhile, is manager of the Northern Ireland Under-21 side and is also the Irish Football Assocation's director of coaching, and both feel the finals have been a thoroughly worthwhile experience.
"It's been a very interesting tournament, as we went into the last round of group games and all eight teams had a chance of going through," Millar told uefa.com. "It's been a very tight tournament, no one's been heavily beaten, so the eight teams are very closely matched. I think that's an indication of the standard at this tournament - it's been very high.
"In one section, France, England and Norway were all close together going into their final fixtures, and the standard of the game between France and England was very high," Millar continued. "In the other group, Serbia and Montenegro were outstanding, Germany look very good and Greece have done well, so there were three sides in either section that were capable of reaching the semi-finals."
Hitzel agreed the standard had been high, adding: "I was very surprised how good Norway were. We know all about Germany, England, France and Serbia and Montenegro, these are traditionally the strong countries. But I was surprised with Norway and also Armenia - they were the youngest and smallest team physically, but they played very good football and are technically skilful, which was good to see."
The pair's observations form the basis of UEFA's post-tournament technical report, which is sent out to all 52 member associations, and both have noticed some interesting trends. "There's a real contrast between the two different styles of play," Millar said. "Some teams play very technical football, and some play more of a pressing game.
"The other trend we've noticed is that more coaches are turning to 4-3-3. I think by next year's [FIFA] World Cup finals in Germany, a lot of teams are going to play that way," he pointed out. "It gives you more options in attack and defensively it means you can drop players back and very quickly form five in midfield. It's an exciting formation if you play with two wide players and there's been a lot of good wing play in this tournament so far, and I think that'll be a trend that develops in senior football. International football has traditionally been 4-4-2, but I see it shifting."
The duo also believe this tournament will be beneficial when they return to their own associations, Hitzel saying: "Myself and Roy are both responsible for coach education in our respective countries. It is therefore very important for me to see the preparation, the pre-match warm-up and speak to the coaches. Here, I can see it with my own eyes, and when I go back to Austria I can relay it. Education is undoubtedly improved when you have seen something in person, so it's a very, very good experience."
Millar went on: "If you are at major tournaments, whether it's U17, U19 or U21 level, it gives the coach educators the opportunity to see what happens in practice, take that and transfer it back home. That helps raise the standard of coaching in our own countries."
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