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Women's Under-19 EURO: back in action!

The tournament returns after a three-year break owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. UEFA chief of women's football Nadine Kessler has been assessing the benefits.

UEFA chief of women's football Nadine Kessler with the Women's Under-19 EURO trophy
UEFA chief of women's football Nadine Kessler with the Women's Under-19 EURO trophy

This summer, UEFA Women's EURO 2022 will set a new standard for women's sporting events in Europe as the continent's best players go head-to-head.

Just over a week before the action kicks off in England, the next generation of female stars will be playing their first matches at the UEFA Women's Under-19 EURO in the Czech Republic, with eight teams in pursuit of a trophy that has not been lifted in three long years.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 editions of UEFA's men's and women's youth international tournaments, but all four return this summer with Germany (women's) and France (men's) already celebrating their success at Under-17 level. The men's Under-19 tournament is already underway in Slovakia, with the women's event starting this Monday in Ostrava.

Finals preview

Eye-opening experience for Europe's elite youth

These European youth tournaments provide a priceless experience for top young players, allowing them to test themselves at international level while gaining important experience of a tournament atmosphere.

Nadine Kessler, UEFA chief of women’s football, was twice a Women’s Under-19 EURO winner with Germany before going on to enjoy a glittering senior career at both domestic and international level. She has fond memories of playing age-group football and is thrilled that the competition could resume this season.

Nadine Kessler in action at the Women's Under-19 finals in 2006
Nadine Kessler in action at the Women's Under-19 finals in 2006

"I loved it - international competitions at this stage in your life are crucial," she says, "because that’s when you realise what you must do to make a career out of football. It’s a time when you mature.

"You get good international competitive sporting experience, but you also have to juggle life as well – maybe with school and other issues when you are going from being a teenager to becoming an adult. I loved meeting people from other countries and seeing what’s out there. For me, it was an eye opener."

Getting back to action

UEFA’s evolving Return to Play protocol has been central to getting the ball rolling again in 2022, lowering the risk as far as possible by applying the latest medical advice and best practices. The security of young players was always a crucial part of organising these events, and the Return to Play protocols extended this to COVID-19 protection.

It has allowed the resumption of events crucial to UEFA’s mission, and part of the €2.4m payments currently made to each national association under the EURO-funded HatTrick programme goes towards the cost of entering UEFA’s youth events. This presents different challenges to each nation, and recognising that led to a radical change in how women’s youth qualifying was played on the return of the Women's Under-17 and Women's Under-19 competitions last autumn.

A new format to benefit everyone

Nations were split into two tiered Leagues, like in the UEFA Nations League, and they compete for promotion and relegation in the autumn and spring, with the League A group winners in round 2 reaching the finals. This guarantees teams, including the host nation who also take part, five or six competitive matches per season against similarly ranked sides and is aimed at encouraging young women to keep playing the game.

"The format change was part of our Time For Action women’s football strategy," Kessler adds. "It shows that UEFA is taking care of more than just the very top level. Investment is going into getting more girls to play, but also in providing them with a pathway through our youth competitions to then make it as a professional.

"This is the first time for this Nations League-style system in our youth competitions, which allows for more matches for all and also more competitive matches. It’s hoped that this can help give young players the experience they might have missed out on in the past two years."

How to watch the Women's Under-19 EURO