A move into professional football may be more than a dream for some of the players at the UEFA Regions' Cup.
By Pawel Dimow & Marek Göbel
The 2004/05 UEFA Regions' Cup has been the most professional tournament to date. The eight teams involved have set about their task with an unprecedented level of commitment. While in previous editions, players would mix in the bar at the team hotel after games - this time, they have been safely in bed by 10pm.
Scouting information has been at a premium too. On all of uefa.com's trips to matches we have been accompanied by at least one scout, checking out the opposition for upcoming games, but scouts of another sort have had much to consider.
Talent in reserve
Since the qualifying tournaments, the sides from central and Eastern Europe who reached the finals have been stripped of many of their best players by local professional clubs, yet there is no shortage of quality at the finals which has slipped through the net until now.
Bulgaria's South-West Region-Sofia have been the surprise package so far, with their masterful playmaker Ivaylo Angelov and young striker Ivan Todorov, compared by many observers to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both being regarded as professional-standard players.
And while many other players, with steady jobs at home, have no interest in full-time football, the Bulgarian duo are still hoping for a big break. "I am getting on a bit as I will be 30 in December," Angelov told uefa.com. "However, I still hope to be spotted and get the chance to play professionally."
The 21-year-old Todorov, the tournament's joint-top scorer with three goals, is no less keen. "I take the training sessions very seriously," he told uefa.com. "We have been training two times a day and this has a positive impact on my form. Of course, I hope to be discovered by the scouts."
His main concern is still winning the cup. "Our team are a very strong unit and we came here to fight," said Todorov. "Now, after winning two games, we are thinking about winning the title. I also hope to become the tournament's top scorer."
The level of competition is certainly bringing the best out of players, and all have noticed the leap in standards since the qualifying rounds, in which most of the finalists went unbeaten. "The sides in the finals are much stronger than those in the eliminations," said Todorov.
JMKFS Brno midfielder Milan Sebesta has no wish to turn professional but, for him, the experience of playing in such a well-organised event has been a delight, despite two consecutive defeats. "Everything here is very well organised and we like it very much," he said to uefa.com.
One thing the players have noticed is a broad range of approaches to the game, to accompany all the different nationalities here. "Yes, there are differences in the styles of play," Malopolska captain Slawomir Jagla admitted to uefa.com. "The Spaniards play in a very different way."
Spanish representatives Vasca are now in the final, but as they face Central Slovakia in their final group game, Ivan Iliev's Sofia are being touted as favourites to join them. "The Bulgarians play very well tactically and they are very strong attacking down the wings," said Jagla.
"The Bulgarians are very good technically," added Sebesta. The Vasca scouts in Zabierzow on Thursday will do well to watch them closely.