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Proud hosts of a UEFA final tournament for the first time, Slovenia is delighted to be welcoming talented young European footballers for the UEFA European Under-17 Championship over the next two weeks – and promises visitors a special stay in this attractive country.
"We are very proud and we must thank UEFA for having decided to award the championship to Slovenia," said the honorary president of the Football Association of Slovenia (NZS), Rudi Zavrl. "This also means that UEFA is committed to pursuing its policy of treating all of its members equally, pursuing the principle of solidarity, and giving an opportunity to a small country like Slovenia to organise this type of event.
We are very happy, this tournament will have a big impact on the future development of football in Slovenia, and I am confident that we will be a good host."
Looking at the eight teams involved, France, Germany, Iceland and Georgia comprise the Group A field, while Slovenia, the Netherlands, Poland and Belgium will contest Group B. The group stage games will be played on 4, 7 and 10 May in Ljubljana, Domzale, Maribor and Lendava, and the top two from each section will go through to the semi-finals three days later. The final will be held at the ŠRC Stožice stadium in Ljubljana on 16 May.
Slovenia has a great deal to offer those who come to watch the U17 final round. "It might sound like a cliché, but all the players, staff and fans that come to Slovenia will come to a friendly, hospitable and open society," Zavrl added. "Besides enjoying the football, I am sure they will find time to savour our natural and cultural delights. Slovenia is a small country, and from the capital you can be in every corner of the country within two hours."
The finals will also leave its mark on Slovenian football, particularly at youth level, according to Branko Elsner, head of coach education at the NZS. "This tournament is of tremendous importance," he told UEFA.com. "Even before deciding to host the tournament, we asked ourselves the question: how can we benefit from hosting this big tournament? One of the main benefits is certainly the fact that this tournament can have a big impact on the quality of our youth football.
All coaches that are working in the youth domain will have the opportunity to see many new things during the tournament. Secondly, there is an impact on grassroots, and increased participation in sport in general and football. That is a very important point for us."
The tournament can benefit Slovenia in the long run. "We will also use it to produce an analysis along with our coaches and students of the faculty of sport," Elsner added. "This analysis will try to answer the following questions: what was the most efficient model used during the tournament, and how do Slovenian boys compare with their peers from Europe? Our aim is to find out where football is driving at, what is its main path, and whether we are a part of this development."
At senior level, Slovenia has produced distinguished performances since affiliation to UEFA and FIFA in 1994 – qualifying for UEFA EURO 2000 and the FIFA World Cup in 2002 and 2010. Elsner says such successes will act as a spur to drive on the Slovenian football community in the coming years.
"In the past decade we have been very successful, and have qualified for three major football competitions," he said. "Each win, each game, regardless of whether it is a friendly or a qualifying game, is important for the people and for the image of football in the country. We will therefore strive in the Slovenian FA, along with coaches, players and professional staff, to repeat and upgrade those results.
"However, we have to be realistic and know that we are a small country. It is therefore essential to invest in football and make it bigger, regardless of whether we qualify for a major championship every couple of years."
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