The UEFA European Under-16 Championship, the first edition of which ran from 1980 until 1982, was the place where stars such as Thierry Henry and Luís Figo took their first step towards the limelight. And since the switch to U17 classification in 2001/02 the likes of England's Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, Spain's Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué, Germany's Mario Götze and Toni Kroos, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Belgium's Eden Hazard have followed in their footsteps.
Denmark staged the first, 16-team, U17 finals in 2002 and Switzerland captured the hearts of football lovers with a series of stunning performances that were enough to win the title and prove that they could well be a country to watch in the future. However their immediate U17 successors failed to qualify for the 2003 finals – showing how high standards across the continent have risen and how competitive youth football has become.
Hosts Portugal won that edition, followed by another home team, France, in 2004, with Turkey victorious in Italy a year later and Russia then taking the title in Luxembourg. Spain were champions in Belgium in 2007 and Turkey the following year, and were the dominant force in the old U16 championship; indeed all but the first two of those were under Juan Santisteban, appointed in 1988. He retired after the 2008 triumph and the following year hosts Germany secured the crown.
England broke their duck in 2010 in Liechtenstein, winning all 11 games in their campaign including qualifying. The Netherlands, losers to Germany in the 2009 final, gained revenge in 2011 with a thrilling 5-2 win in Serbia and beat the same side on penalties in Slovenia 12 months later to emulate Spain in retaining the title. They did not make the 2013 finals in Slovakia, allowing Russia to take the title, just as in 2006 on penalties, this time against Italy rather than the Czech Republic. Malta hosted the 2014 event, England winning their second title, before the 2015 finals in Bulgaria expand to a 16-team event once again.
While the Iberian sides have dominated the U16 and U17 tournaments over the years, with eight Spanish triumphs (six at U16 level) and five by the Portuguese (four at U16), Germany with three wins – two in the U16s including one as West Germany – have also a fine pedigree at this level. Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Turkey, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Italy and the Soviet Union were all U16 champions once.
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