Six of the eight UEFA Regions' Cup contenders are on their way home from Bulgaria but have taken great memories from the unique amateur tournament.
While hosts South-East Region AMA and Poland's Dolnoslaski AMA are gearing up for tomorrow's UEFA Regions' Cup final in Sliven, the other six contenders are making their way home from Bulgaria and the unique atmosphere of Europe's premier competition for amateur footballers.
The players have become familiar figures in the tournament bases of Sliven and Stara Zagora over the last week, even popping out after dark for an orange juice and a stroll (presumably) around some of the leading local nightspots after matches. And all the eliminated teams have something to be proud of.
'Enjoyed every minute'
While the home side won Group A, they were very nearly pipped at the last by Northern Ireland's Eastern Region AMA and their manager Harry McConkey told uefa.com: "Our fitness has been first class, our performances have been strong and we have enjoyed every minute of this tournament. Give or take the occasional stomach bug Bulgaria as a country has made us feel very welcome and even though we didn't make the final we will look back with great fondness on this tournament."
Their campaign began with a win against France's Basse-Normandie AMA, who then lost to the hosts but ended on a high with a superb defeat of Bosnia-Herzegovina's talented Tuzla Canton AMA. With his team having shared a sing-song very late last night with McConkey's squad, Basse-Normandie coach Patrick Gonfalone rued: "What we needed to reach the final was one more win. We should have won against Eastern Region, but luck was not on our side. We prepared very well, but in football luck sometimes plays a big part."
In Group B, Aviero AMA of Portugal were pipped on the final day by Dolnoslaski, but coach José Sá was pleased his side always played attractively. "It is the first time that Aveiro have come to Bulgaria and we will take some good memories home," Sá said. "We showed what we intended in the UEFA Regions' Cup -playing nice football that appeals to the fans."
Ukraine's Ivan Odessa AMA, like Basse-Normandie, got off the mark on Sunday by beating Switzerland's Ticino AMA, who two days previously had been agonisingly close to defeating Dolnoslaski and sealing the group there and then. But despite their disappointments, the teams have had a great time. Ticino coach Fabrizio Vavassori said: "I want to applaud Bulgaria - the hospitality, the pitches, all the UEFA and Bulgarian staff worked very well and I am very satisfied with that." Ivan Odessa's Serhiy Sukhoruchenko added: "I am very happy - there was fantastic organisation. Bulgaria did a great job!"
Additional reporting by Pete Sanderson & Mamuka Kvaratskhelia