By Mark Chaplin
The UEFA European Under-19 Championship, which drew to a close on Saturday, gave many pointers towards the stars of the future - with host country Switzerland a fitting setting for the tournament in UEFA's 50th birthday year.
Many positives are being drawn from the event, which was won by Spain with an injury-time goal in the final against Turkey in Nyon, not least the considerable reservoir of playing talent that is available in Europe, some of whom will perhaps become household names in the coming years.
"There were so many good examples of talented young players coming through," said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh. "The point of the U19 championship is to give experience to young players, who often enter these tournaments as boys and leave them as men in football terms. It makes a lot of youngsters grow up in a football sense, because of the pressure they face in an event like this."
Good professional prospects
Roxburgh added: "It was interesting to see how some of the boys labelled as talents actually coped - in fact, there were a lot of good players. It's not certain how many of them might become superstars, but there were definitely a good number who look as though they will be good professionals - one never knows. Most associations would hope to get two or three players out of these teams who go further - more than that, you would imagine, in the case of Spain."
Spain were worthy winners of the competition. They had pace, power, considerable skill and plenty of options on the bench to turn matches in their favour, and the remarkable chip by Real Madrid CF midfield player Borja Valero deep into injury time in Saturday's final was a goal fit to win a championship. "Like [Zinedine] Zidane's goal in the 2002 UEFA Champions League, the best goal in the competition was the last one," Roxburgh reflected.
"Spain had great depth in their squad - they were able to take some of their best players off in matches, and people were wondering why. But clearly they had such good replacements that they were able to use them to freshen things up on the field," explained the UEFA technical director.
Some other teams also performed notably. Turkey's resilience and all-round teamwork gave them a well-earned runners-up spot. The robust Ukrainians were a tough nut to crack, conceding no goals in the group phase and taking Spain all the way to a penalty shoot-out in a gripping semi-final, while hosts Switzerland were carried along on a wave of public enthusiasm which helped take a solid team to the last four.
UEFA's decision to hold the final in its Golden Jubilee year at the Colovray stadium, opposite the European body's headquarters in Nyon, proved to be totally appropriate. The local Spanish and Turkish support turned out in considerable numbers to produce a 5,000 crowd at the compact venue, giving a fitting atmosphere for a European final.
Praise for Swiss
Switzerland's organisation of the whole tournament was very good, and I think it was nice that this event was played here," said Roxburgh. "We must remember that the youth competitions have been a key pillar of UEFA's activities over the past 50 years, and this year was the 'Jubilee final' right next to UEFA's building."
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