At the top of their game

At the current UEFA Regions' Cup finals, which are taking place in Bavaria, Europe's best amateur players are setting new standards...

Zagreb celebrate winning the 2017 UEFA Regions Cup. Photo by Emre Oktay
Zagreb celebrate winning the 2017 UEFA Regions Cup. Photo by Emre Oktay ©Sportsfile

“We were a great team, we were together,” said triumphant captain Zeljko Štulec after his Zagreb side returned to Croatia as UEFA Regions’ Cup winners in 2017. “It was a great experience: the matches, the camaraderie, and it was fantastic in the final. It was difficult being away from home for 12 days, but we are delighted.”

Christoph Metzelder (Germany) played in UEFA Regions' Cup qualifying - and went on to the highest levels.
Christoph Metzelder (Germany) played in UEFA Regions' Cup qualifying - and went on to the highest levels.©Getty Images

Now in its 11th edition, the UEFA Regions’ Cup is a tournament that gives amateur teams the chance to compete with the best of their peers, using the kinds of facilities usually reserved for professionals. Players who have featured in the world’s top amateur competition have gone on to become professionals – even senior internationals.

Christoph Metzelder is possibly the most famous example; the 47-times capped Germany defender played for Westfalen in the 1999 competition. Zagreb won the Regions’ Cup in Turkey in 2017. However, at its heart, the UEFA Regions’ Cup is a celebration of those who play for the joy of playing football. First contested in 1999, the competition features the winners of national inter-regional amateur competitions (or national teams in the case of smaller nations).

The UEFA Regions' Cup trophy
The UEFA Regions' Cup trophy©Sportsfile

The tournament is only open to players who have never featured at any professional level, with the UEFA Regions’ Cup regulations ensuring that the teams involved are of a reasonably similar standard, regardless of which nation they come from. As a result, the winners have not necessarily been sides from the big associations; it is true that teams from Italy and Spain have won five titles between them, but regions from the Czech Republic, Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Croatia have taken the top prize too, with games at the final tournament tightly contested.

Tellingly, no UEFA Regions’ Cup final has been won by a margin of more than one goal, and extra time or penalties have been needed to settle four deciders. UEFA Regions’ Cup players tend to be young and extremely fit, while the football is stylish and increasingly sophisticated. These are skilful competitors with good coaches, and they all take the competition extremely seriously.

What happens off the pitch is just as important. The UEFA Regions’ Cup is an extraordinary opportunity for players from different cultures to come together. It can be a life-changing experience for them, and there is plenty to recommend for supporters too. UEFA Regions’ Cup games offer a fascinating insight into how teams from different European nations play, and how tactical innovations at the top echelons of the game cascade down into the amateur game. If you are in Bavaria for the finals, expect to be pleasantly surprised.

This article appears in the 2019 UEFA Regions’ Cup final tournament programme