Euro 2009 Live Under 21 Championship
The UEFA European Under 21 Championship is an eagerly awaited tournament in the football calendar every two years. This year Sweden will host the finals of what promises to be a thrilling event as European heavyweights battle to prove youth supremacy. This tournament has been the breeding ground of some of the most famous names in the sport today including Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul, Petr Cech, Iker Casillas and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
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The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) first organized the European Under 21 Championship in 1978 as a successor to the Under 23 Challenge Cup, which was the premier youth competition from 1967 to 1970. This was dominated by Bulgaria and the erstwhile Yugoslavia and was held in a knock-out format with the title holders playing a randomly picked side every year.
UEFA already had an Under -18 competition and the Under-23 one was not helping the youth mission in Europe. This was an unsatisfactory format and UEFA eventually scrapped it in favour of an Under-21 tournament beginning in 1978 when 24 teams competed in the tournament. The final was played at the Pod Bijelim Bregom stadium between Yugoslavia and East Germany. The former won the finals by a margin of 5-4 aggregate, but not before some thrilling football was played on the pitch.
Up to 1992, the Under-21 championship was played out in a simple format. The teams were divided into eight qualification groups and the winners of these groups competed in the quarter-finals. From here on, the teams played a home and away fixture with the eventual winner being decided on an aggregate basis.
In 1998, the competition underwent a slight change and had to include nine qualification groups as the number of nations swelled to 46. Here seven group winners were chosen with the winners of the eighth and ninth group battling it out for a final spot. In this year it was Greece and England who played for the last qualification spot.
Two years later, the format again changed as 9 winners and 7 runners-up were put into another home and away round to decide the eventual eight qualifiers. the 2002 tournament was hosted by Switzerland and saw the introduction of the semi-final stage for the first time. UEFA had to use ten qualification groups in 2004, while in 2006, the 16 qualification teams were chosen from the winners and runners-up of eight huge groups.
It was only in 2007 that UEFA decided to streamline the competition and introduced the rule that the host nation qualified automatically, while the remaining seven teams were chosen via preliminary and the play-off rounds.
In this format, the quarterfinals have been done away with and the top two teams from each group will compete in the semi-finals. In the group stages, each team will play the other once, with three points for a win and one for a draw.
The UEFA Euro 2009 Under-21 Championship have had an Italian stamp on them with the defending World Cup winners having snared the trophy five times. England, Spain, the former Soviet Union and the Netherlands have won the trophy twice each.
The 2006-07 edition was won by the Netherlands on home soil. However the Dutch have not qualified for this year's tournament.
UEFA European Under-21 Championship 2009
This year, the line-up looks pretty strong and it will be difficult to pick a winner.
Group A has hosts Sweden, Belarus, Italy and Serbia, while Group B has Spain, Germany, England and Finland.
England in European Under-21 Championship
England starts off as marginal favourites simply because of the quality of players on display. Theo Walcott, Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck and Gabriel Agbonlahor will aim to make their mark and press for a permanent senior call-up through this tournament.
England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce has gone ahead and named Walcott in his 23-man squad despite fears expressed by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger that the player hardly has time to recover before the pre-season starts in the country and could suffer a burnout. Wenger had remonstrated with the Football Association that Walcott should not play in two teams; namely the senior England squad as well as the Under-21 squad this summer. However the FA as well as Pearce appear to have disregarded his sentiments.
Manchester City defender Micah Richards is also included in the squad, thus providing him further chance to impress England boss Fabio Capello ahead of the World Cup qualifiers later this year.
Frazier Campbell gets a chance to prove his worth and impress club manager Harry Redknapp, while Andrew Driver has been included in the English squad despite fears that Scotland may choose him to turn out in their colours.
Joe Hart gets a chance to prove he can be a worthy successor to senior goalkeeper David James, while James Tomkins' sterling performances this season for West Ham have been rewarded with a call-up by Pearce.
However Pearce will be without Tom Huddlestone, Jamie O'Hara, David Wheater, Matt Derbyshire and Aaron Lennon as they are out with various injuries. England may particularly miss Lennon as his pace down the left wing gave them an advantage during the qualifiers.
Other players to watch out for during the tournament include Marcus Berg of Sweden, Teemu Pukki of Finland, Zoran Tosic of Serbia and Sandro Wagner of Germany.
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