The 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship may be more than two years away but finals hosts Israel are already in a state of considerable excitement after the draw for the qualifying round was held in Nyon, Switzerland.
The hosts receive automatic entry into the final tournament leaving Ori Shilo, the CEO of the Israel Football Association, an observer at the draw – not that that dampened his enthusiasm. "We are so thrilled today that to stand in the hall felt like a dream for us all," Shilo told UEFA.com. "There has been a lot of hard work to bring the final tournament to Israel and it was still so hard to believe when we walked into the front of the hall today for the draw and saw our names there as the hosts."
The UEFA Executive Committee awarded the 2013 event to Israel on 27 January, and for Shilo and his team the memories are no less enjoyable for being so fresh. "We have been so close [to hosting] before so we were very nervous," he said as he looked back on a decision to award Israel a UEFA finals for the first time.
"I was on the phone to our president every five minutes on the day we were expecting the announcement and I cannot tell you how excited he was.
Today it was a chance to be calm because we were not looking at the draw and asking where England and Germany are. It's great to know that we've been successful so far but now we have a lot to do for the next two and a half years to make sure this is a memorable competition."
Although Israel failed to make it beyond the qualifying round of the 2011 U21 competition, Shilo points to the country's strong recent performances at club level as a sign Israeli football is on the up. "We are seeing big strides now for Israel in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League with Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Hapoel Tel-Aviv," he said.
"[Before] we didn't hear the Champions League music so much but when we do, we see the children celebrating and waving flags.
The [U21] competition will now be a big inspiration for football and an opportunity for come and visit Israel."
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