Whereas the 2009 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final in Germany was played out in front of 24,000 people, the 2010 edition will be hosted by a country with a population of just 35,000. But while the tournament may be on a smaller scale, Liechtenstein are promising "an event for the whole country" next May.
It would not be the first time that UEFA's second smallest member nation has staged a youth final tournament following the hosting of the 2003 European U19 Championship which attracted a healthy aggregate attendance of more than 20,000 for the 15 games. And according to Liechtenstein Football Association (LFV) general secretary Roland Ospelt, it has not been forgotten.
"In Liechtenstein, everybody remembers the U19 tournament," Ospelt told uefa.com. "It was good fun that summer and we hope to create such an event again." Certainly, that has set the standard for the LFV to follow. "With the U17s we will try to get something similar," Ospelt added. "And it is good for football in Lichtenstein to have the top youth teams in our country, to show them top-class football."
Qualifying begins on 5 September, with 52 nations aiming to earn the seventh berths alongside Liechtenstein in the finals. In 2003 Italy's triumph ensured an influx of fans from across the border and Ospelt would not be displeased if some of their neighbours made it this time. "We can create an event for the whole country," he said. "And If we are lucky we will have Switzerland, Austria, maybe Germany and Italy; then I'm quite sure we will also have good crowds."
Germany, if they qualify, will be defending the title they won in a memorable tournament on home soil, and Ospelt knows the bar has been set high for Liechtenstein to match. "They have set a top standard," he said. "If you look at the spectators and the staff they had it will be really hard for us to get near to that. But especially from the marketing point of view, what they did with banners and those sort of things, these are some ideas we can pick up and use in Liechtenstein."
Liechtenstein's preparations step up a gear this weekend when their U17 side take on Germany, Austria and Switzerland in a tournament held to mark the LFV's 75th anniversary, as well as to give the players a taste of what the finals will hold. In 23 U17 qualifiers since the classification came in for the 2001/02 season, Liechtenstein have registered 22 defeats and one draw, so the nation's first appearance in the junior UEFA finals since the 1998 U16 event will certainly prove a test. "It will be a big challenge, not only for the players but the whole FA," Ospelt said. "
The up side of being such a small country is that we can easily get the players together to train nearly every week, so we can be a bit competitive with the big football countries."
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