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UEFA's chance for amateurs

The UEFA Regions' Cup will be five editions old after the 2007 finals in Bulgaria, which start next Wednesday, but it is not UEFA's first amateur competition.

While the UEFA Regions' Cup will only be five editions old after the 2007 finals in Bulgaria, which starts next Wednesday, the idea of a pan-European amateur football tournament is not a new one. A tournament for amateur sides was first suggested by the UEFA Amateur Committee in February 1965, and was approved by the UEFA Executive committee and launched the same year as the UEFA Amateur Cup. However, due to the difficulty in defining what constituted an amateur player, only 12 of the 33 UEFA nations of the time submitted teams.

Excluded nations
The original tournament remit insisted that only associations with a professional or non-amateur top division could enter the competition. Thus, the former Eastern Bloc countries - where top sportsmen were still classed as amateurs - and Scandinavian nations, whose top divisions were still amateur, were excluded. Undeterred, the 12 teams involved played each other home and away in four three-team qualifying groups between February and December 1966 leading to a four-team final tournament in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, with Austria beating their Scottish counterparts 2-1 on 18 June 1967 to take the title.

Spanish success
The Netherlands triumphed at the second Amateur Cup finals in Forte dei Marmi, Italy, in 1970, while the 1974 final was to prove - literally - a non-event, as West Germany and Yugoslavia agreed to share the title rather than play a final. Yugoslavia would go on to take sole command of the title, winning the 1978 edition in Greece. With only ten nations having entered the qualifiers, that was to prove the last final until the newly-formed UEFA Committee for Amateur Football decided to resurrect the idea of a continental amateur competition in 1996. This time, with no more Eastern Bloc or Scandinavian problems, the tournament has proved much more successful.

New dawn
With the UEFA Regions' Cup being contested primarily on a regional rather than national basis, Italian representatives Veneto AMA won the inaugural competition on home territory in 1999 with an extra-time final success against Spanish side Madrid AMA. The home side were to be the victors in the 2001 edition of the new tournament too, with the Czech Republic's Central Moravia AMA overcoming Portugal's Braga AMA on penalties after a 2-2 draw. The 2003 edition saw an Italian team win the title again as Piemonte Valle d'Aosta AMA overcame France’s Ligue du Maine AMA in the final in the Württemberg region of Germany.

Vasca triumph
In 2005, 37 nations submitted teams at the start of the competition, emphasising its popularity. Basque Country AMA striker Alain Arroyo summed it up moments after the Spanish representative side had won the tournament in Poland: "It's incredible," he beamed. The eight qualifiers for the 2007 finals in Bulgaria will all hope to experience that feeling on 26 June in Sliven, and over the next four days uefa.com will profile the contenders for Europe's amateur crown.