The fifth edition of the UEFA Regions' Cup, the blue-riband event for Europe's finest amateur football teams, will reach a climax in Bulgaria this June.
The fifth edition of the UEFA Regions' Cup, the blue-riband event for Europe's finest amateur football teams, reaches a climax this June.
Bulgaria will host the final tournament, with eight teams set to do battle for the honour of taking the crown that Basque Country AMA won at the last finals tournament in the Malopolska region of Poland in 2005. "Here we have a lot of lads from different countries coming together and making new friends," said UEFA youth and amateur committee chairman Jim Boyce as he reflected on the excitement of the last finals tournament. "In those circumstances, there really are no losers."
The reigning champions have already bowed out, failing to progress in a fiercely competitive Group 1 mini-tournament along with fellow 2005 finals contenders Republic of Ireland AMA. France's Basse-Normandie AMA won the section and must now rank as strong contenders for the trophy. "I am proud to be involved in the UEFA Regions' Cup," said coach Patrick Gonfalone. "It's an attractive event which gives value to amateur football, regional and local leagues. We never forget that we are defending our shirt, our colours, our nation."
Similar thoughts will be on the minds of all the other sides at the finals, with five other teams having already confirmed their place: Portugal's Aveiro AMA, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Tuzla Canton AMA, Ukraine's Ivan Odessa AMA, Bulgaria's South-East Region AMA and Poland's Dolnoslaski AMA. The final lineup will be known once the Group 4 and 6 mini-tournaments have been played, meaning that teams from the Czech Republic, England, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Georgia, Switzerland, Azerbaijan and Serbia could yet be among the finalists.
The finals will prove again that the amateur ethos - playing for love, not money - is still alive and well in European football. "It represents the vast majority of players and it is giving them an opportunity they probably thought they would never have," said Boyce. "I think it's tremendous. Long may it continue."