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Sad to say goodbye

Ahead of Saturday's final, the eight UEFA Regions' Cup teams got together for a rousing farewell on Thursday.

By Jim Wirth in Krakow

Think about it as the Tower of Babel. But perhaps with more beer involved.

Farewell supper
Thursday saw the concluding group matches at the UEFA Regions' Cup finals. On Friday, the majority of teams were due to be heading for home, leaving the finalists, South-West Region-Sofia and Vasca, to train for Saturday's showpiece game in Proszowice on their own. But before that there was the small matter of the farewell dinner.

Players apart
All eight teams have been sharing the same hotel this week, but opportunities for meeting their opponents off the field have been few and far between. With the teams staying well away from the hotel bar while there were still games to play, the dinner marked a last chance to meet and greet.

Language problems
Language, as it always is at final tournaments, has been a knotty issue. While UEFA's mainly Swiss staff are fluent in French, German, Italian and English, that is little help when it comes to communicating with Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish, Czech, Slovakian, Romanian and Bulgarian players and coaches.

Universal language
Local staff and members of the Polish Football Federation have done their bit in lowering the language barrier, but when it comes to players communicating with each other, as often as not, gesture is all they can manage. Fortunately beer, like football, is a universal language.

Medals awarded
With all of the teams having been given a commemorative plaque by UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce at the farewell dinner, and group runners-up Central Slovakia and Kahovka-Kzeso also receiving richly-deserved bronze medals, a vast quantity of ale was laid on by UEFA as a thank you to the players.

Famous occasion
Veterans from the Regions' Cup finals of two years ago will be only too aware of the power that a few drinks has to break the ice. Few who witnessed the semi-naked arm-wrestling tournament between Hungary's Szabolcs Gabona Csoport and their new Dutch friends from District Noord - neither of whom spoke a word of each other's language - that marked the final night of group games will forget it.

Famous guests
But, as has been so apparent throughout this week, Europe's top amateur tournament is much more serious than a mere carouse. This edition of the competition has been graced by some very important visitors, distinguished Slovakian coach Dr Josef Venglós and French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes among them, and has been organised to a professional standard.

Round table
One innovation this time has been an official round-table meeting for the team coaches which was held on Tuesday night, as all the coaches - accompanied of course by their interpreters in many cases - were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the tournament.

More singing
But with the serious business of football now out of the way for six of the teams at the finals, the time was for the players and coaches to enjoy themselves. And enjoy they did. Having presumably been impressed by the Vasca contingent's singing this week, Malopolska took full advantage of a conveniently placed microphone to show us that they too could hold a tune.

Long memories
With that the night began. The teams gathered on the hotel forecourt to celebrate having played in the world's biggest and best amateur football tournament. They might not have remembered much about the party the following morning, but their memories of Malopolska will last a long time.

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