One of the season’s trivia was that history repeated itself. In May, England had been the venue for the UEFA U17 Championship for the first time since hosting the last final tournament disputed as a U16 event in 2001. In July, Finland provided an echo by staging the U19 finals for the first time since hosting the last tournament to be played under the U18 banner. Another anecdotal fact is that, of the seven nations to visit Finland in 2001, Ukraine were the only ones to return in 2018.
Apart from the cast, the venues were also different. Whereas the 2001 event had focused on a Tampere – Helsinki axis, the 2018 tournament headed northwest to the coastal city of Vaasa and, an hour or so inland within the Bothnia region, to Seinäjoki. The two stadiums with almost identical capacity (5,572 to 5,672) were used for all 16 matches and the other ground-breaking (or rather grass-breaking) feature was that all fixtures were, for the first time, played on artificial turf. But climatic history did repeat itself. As had been the case in 2001, the tournament was greeted by clear skies and unusually high temperatures during the long Nordic summer days, including the Bothnia region’s hottest day in 60 years. When the ball started rolling at 15:00 local time on Monday 16 July (only 21 hours after the FIFA World Cup final had kicked-off in Russia) it was evident that cooling-breaks midway through each half would become a regular occurrence.
The competitive nature of national-team football at this age-level was highlighted by the fact that only two of the contestants in Finland (Portugal and defending champions England) had contested the final tournament in Georgia a year earlier. The list of notable absentees included former champions such as Spain and Germany.
Apart from supplying impeccable organisational skills, the Football Association of Finland enthusiastically promoted the event, deploying Tim Sparv, capped 60 times by Finland, and Maija Saari (86 appearances for the women’s national team) as ambassadors for the event. During the final tournament, city-centre Fan Zones were set up in Vaasa and Seinäjoki. The tournament format featured an additional fixture, with the third-placed team from each group going into a play-off to determine Europe’s fifth participant (along with the four semi-finalists and final-tournament hosts Poland) at the FIFA U-20 World Cup to be staged in May-June 2019. All but two of the 16 matches (the FIFA play-off being one of them) were televised.
UEFA’s Technical Observers at the final tournament in Finland were two coaches with extensive experience in UEFA age-limit competitions: Jarmo Matikainen of Finland and László Szalai of Hungary. Their views and observations have been compiled into this technical report which, it is hoped, will be useful to fellow coaches, especially those working at the development levels of the game.