The final round of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship traditionally has a high turnover in terms of participants – this was perpetuated in 2014, when only one of the previous year's finalists (Switzerland) was present. Former winners England, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Turkey joined up with the Swiss in returning and their presence undoubtedly had an effect on the texture of an event marked by attacking ambition.
The 2014 final tournament was impeccably staged, for the first time, by the Malta Football Association (MFA). Three venues were used, including the stadium on the island of Gozo – a fact which introduced the novelty of teams travelling by boat to their games. The group matches were staged as double-headers at Gozo Stadium, Hibernians Stadium and Ta' Qali National Stadium, with all three knockout games played at the latter.
Kick-off times ranged from 11.00 to 18.00, with the second semi-final and the final starting at 20.45 and 19.00 respectively. Training facilities were on a mixture of artificial and natural grass surfaces, with all eight teams given equal shares of each type of surface.
All eight delegations were accommodated in a single hotel, which facilitated interchanges between the playing and coaching staffs. The crowd of 9,422 to watch the final between the Netherlands and England brought the accumulative attendance figure for the tournament to 42,388. Matches were screened on a pan-European basis by Eurosport.
Six referees and eight assistant referees from non-participating countries were selected to gain their first experience at the final tournament of a UEFA competition, along with two Maltese referees who acted as fourth officials.
As has become the custom in recent years, the tournament agenda featured educational briefings on doping controls and the dangers of match-fixing aimed at players who were, in the main, also enjoying their first taste of international competition. Grassroots events were pegged to the final tournament, including a successful 'Reach Out' project which allowed local youngsters to make contact with players from the participating countries.
Domenic Aquilina (UEFA.com)
Dave Maher (Sportsfile)