The inaugural UEFA Europa League season has been blessed with goals but the competition was temporarily eclipsed in Hamburg on Tuesday when a series of youth tournament finals took place on a temporary pitch in front of the town hall.
Club Atlético de Madrid and Fulham FC will vie for European honours at the Hamburg Arena on Wednesday yet for a few hours the focus switched to the Rathausmarkt in the heart of the city – and the finals of the grassroots youth tournament. Over recent months, 200 teams of boys and girls aged nine to 14 from the Hamburg area have been whittled down to 12. Today, in a picturesque setting in front of the historic town hall, they vied for glory.
There was no shortage of entertainment as the six 12-minute games produced 81 goals, and UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh was delighted. "It was a fantastic opportunity for the kids," he said. "The idea is to make sure the grassroots are not forgotten when we are dealing with glamour tournaments. That's something UEFA tries to do around every major tournament. It shows that football is football, that grassroots is as important as a professional game."
UEFA president Michel Platini, German Football Association (DFB) president Dr Theo Zwanziger, Hamburger SV chairman Bernd Hoffmann and UEFA Europa League final ambassador Uwe Seeler were also among the spectators, and Seeler was impressed. "Grassroots football has made tremendous progress," said the former West Germany forward. "When I was playing, kids played football in the streets. We didn't have these great mini-pitches and these high-quality balls and boots."
By the end the children also had medals, as well as an opportunity to be photographed alongside the UEFA Europa League trophy. "These finals marked the end of a long tournament played on mini-pitches," said DFB grassroots director Willi Hink. "It was a good link to the UEFA Grassroots Day, where we play on 1,000 mini-pitches all over the country. There was enormous interest and we saw that, once again, football is a platform for integration."
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