UEFA European Under-21 Championship tournament director Karl-Erik Nilsson admitted Sweden's wildest hopes and expectations were exceeded by a memorable fortnight of football in the country.
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The 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship has come to a close, and while Germany celebrate their maiden Under-21 title, the local organisers have also found plenty of reasons to be cheerful too.
"Our hopes and expectations have been exceeded," said tournament director Karl-Erik Nilsson. "We hoped for good crowds, a successful Swedish team and decent weather – and we've had larger crowds than expected, the Swedish team had a massive breakthrough and we've also had brilliant summer weather." Over two weeks in Sweden more than 160,000 people came to watch the fifteen matches, with average attendances of nearly 11,000.
For a major tournament to be a true success, the home team has to capture the imagination of its fans, and that certainly happened in Sweden. The Blågult conceded the first goal in their opener against Belarus but rallied in style to win 5-1, and though they bowed out to England in the semi-finals on penalties, they did so after clawing their way back from 3-0 down. "The Belarus match really established the team among the masses," said Nilsson. "Most of the players play in the Allsvenskan and were known, but not well-known before the tournament. Now they are popular heroes and celebrities among a broader section than just the football pundits. I think a lot of people will want to come and see them play for their Allsvenskan clubs now, which is good for the league."
While Nilsson is sure many of the U21 stars will soon be important members of the Swedish senior side, he felt there would be other long-term benefits from hosting the finals. "The main point of organising a tournament like this is that you gather important experience for big events in the future," he said. "A successful tournament puts us in line for future championships, and we have to be pleased with what we've accomplished here." Nilsson also stressed the correlation between organisational and sporting success. "If we had not been the hosts, then perhaps this team would not have had its breakthrough or become such popular heroes. To achieve sporting success it helps to be active in applying to organise events."
UEFA and the Swedish local organising committee have worked closely in planning the championship, and Nilsson explained that it has generated positive spin-off effects that reach far beyond football. "I think this tournament has given great PR to Sweden, and the four host cities [Malmo, Gothenburg, Helsingborg and Halmstad] have done everything in their power to contribute to this positive image."