The UEFA Youth League reaches its climax in Nyon next month with the last four teams standing in the 2016/17 edition battling to succeed two-time winners Chelsea as champions.
Barcelona are bidding to reclaim the Lennart Johansson trophy, having triumphed in the Under-19 tournament's inaugural 2013/14 campaign, while Real Madrid, Benfica and Salzburg will be striving to add a new name to the roll of honour of a competition increasing annually in prestige.
Indeed, the UEFA Youth League has grown exponentially since Manchester City's Sinan Bytyqi scored its first goal in September 2013. The coaches of this year's semi-finalist sides all agree it is now an indispensable fixture on the youth football calendar.
"This competition is the pinnacle for young players in their development and education process because they play against the best in Europe," Benfica coach João Tralhão told UEFA.com.
His Barcelona counterpart Gabriel De La Torre added: "It's part of the players' development because instead of playing 12–15 very challenging games every season, they play 20 or more matches at this level. This way they start to learn what it's going to be like moving forward. I always try to tell my players that this is a gift."
Madrid assistant coach Alberto Garrido went as far as to say the competition is "getting closer and closer" to what his players can expect from their senior careers. "With each passing year, the level is approaching what you see in professional football and it's nearer to what they'll encounter in the future," he said.
The UEFA Youth League is also beneficial for coaches, as Salzburg's Marco Rose explained: "We learn something every game – whether from our lads or the opposition. For me as a coach and for my staff, it's a great experience to be preparing for opponents game by game. We learn with every round and we hope we will continue to learn."
Salzburg are the only newcomers among this season's final four and they have followed the footsteps of Anderlecht last term by successfully navigating their way through the Domestic Champions path.
"You have to give domestic champions the chance to reach the semi-finals like we have," Rose said. "This is a very fair and good model and I'm pleased we have been able to take advantage. It's been a very exciting tournament. It's a lot of fun to be involved."
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Salzburg have eliminated Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Atlético Madrid en route to Nyon, and Rose is keen to see his players rise to the occasion once again when they face Barcelona at Colovray Stadium on 21 April, kick-off 13:00CET.
"They'll be incredibly difficult opponents, so we definitely need to come up with some ideas, but we've been very successful so far," he said. "The lads will be looking forward to it. There might be a few nerves in the first few minutes, but we'll shake that off relatively quickly.
"It's another huge tie, at the very highest level. That means we can again measure ourselves, collect experience – but of course we want to be successful. That's all part of it too: to learn, to win."
For Gabri, Salzburg represent Barcelona's largest hurdle yet. "They are having a great season and they're up there with the best," he acknowledged. "We watched Salzburg against Manchester City, when they won on penalties, but they deserved to win before it reached that point. And then they played Paris Saint-Germain [5-0], which was another enthralling tie.
"We're going to face a top side full of quality. They've scored 25 goals and only conceded three. According to the stats, they're the toughest team we could face, but I back my players."
Benfica and Madrid, meanwhile, will reprise their 2014 semi-final once either Barcelona or Salzburg have booked their place in the 24 April title decider.
"Our journey so far has been following a dream that we've always had as a group, which was to fight match by match, to win match by match, so as to be part of this wonderful week UEFA gives these young players," said Tralhão. "That's what guided us: a strong desire to reach final week and put ourselves among the top four teams in Europe again."
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