The 2014 edition of the UEFA Under-17 Championship finals, which will be held in Malta next May, was officially launched on Saturday during a press conference at the Grand Hotel Excelsior.
This is the largest tournament ever the Malta Football Association was entrusted with and according to MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo, it provided both administrative and technical challenges for the association.
Darmanin Demajo said that although the association was pleased to win the bid, it still felt the pressure of organising what could be considered as the fourth largest UEFA tournament which provides the first international exposure to some of what would become the top European players.
The MFA President said the technical challenge is the fact that Malta was in the ‘quarter-final stage’ with the top European countries at this level.
“There is a certain concern but we have full faith in Technical Director Robert Gatt and his assistant Jesmond Abela, the technical staff and the players in the squad. I am sure the players will do their very best on the day,” said Darmanin Demajo.
Referring to the controversy in some sections of the media with regards to the memorandum of understanding the association signed with Valletta 2018, the MFA President said that this tournament provided an opportunity of a 30-seconds postcard before the broadcasting of each game during which Malta could be advertised as a travel destination. He thanked the Malta Tourism Authority, Valletta 2018 and in particular Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government and Culture Jose Herrera and Valletta 2018 Foundation Chairman Jason Micallef who took this opportunity as this could be of benefit for Malta.
Photo: Copyright © domenic aquilina
MFA Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Vassallo said this tournament was of great prestige for the association. This is the 13th edition of the tournament and is the last to feature eight teams in the finals. Since 2001, only three countries managed to win the tournament twice – Russia, the Netherlands and Spain.
Vassallo said this was not the first part such a tournament was held in a small country but for example when the tournament was held in Liechtenstein in 2010, they withdrew their participation. The MFA CEO said the association felt we needed to take part while preparing in the best way possible.
The tournament will be played at three different venues – the National Stadium, the Hibernians Stadium and the Gozo Stadium. Works at the latter two stadium will be completed by the end of March. UEFA has been inspecting the venues to make sure that everything goes according to plans
The MFA Training Grounds, Centenary Stadium, Dingli Ground, Luxol Stadium, Melita Ground, Mellieha Ground, Charles Abela Stadium, Rabat Ajax Ground, Sirens Stadium and Victor Tedesco Stadium will serve as training grounds for the finalists.
The finalists will be known by the end of March as the seven Elite Qualifying Round mini-tournaments will be played between the 20th and 31st March. St James Cavalier in Valletta will host the Final Draws which will be held on April 9.
The tournament proper will kick-off on May 9 with the first four matches from the two groups at the National Stadium and the Gozo Stadium. Match Day 2 is scheduled for May 12 at the Hibernians Stadium and Gozo Stadium while Match Day 3 is scheduled for May 15 at the National Stadium and Hibernians Stadium. There will be two morning games and two evening games. UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce will be present throughout the tournament while UEFA President Michel Platini is expected to attend for the final.
The Seabank Resort & Spa will host all the participating teams and will be the base for the Local Organising Committee for the duration of the tournament while the Ramla Bay Resort will accommodate the match officials.
Bjorn Vassallo revealed that for the first time, Eurosport will broadcast all the matches of the tournament on Eurosport and Eurosport 2. He said that the organising committee is currently in discussions with Public Broadcasting Services over possible broadcasting on TVM or TVM2.
Bjorn Vassallo went on to say that the tournament will not only feature top-level players but will be a showcase for Malta and Gozo. There is the educational and cultural aspect as the finals will present the local community with an opportunity to host and get to know better the different cultures of people from countries here being represented by their sporting communities while foreign guests will have a taste of Malta’s heritage through the arts, urban culture, rural culture, folklore and traditions.
The main theme in the coming months will be the Reach Out campaign which will is meant to promote the tournament and the game. Fr. Hilary Tagliaferro and the only five players ever to play 100+ matches for the Malta National Team, namely Carmel Busuttil, David Carabott, Joe Brincat, Gilbert Agius and Michael Mifsud have been appointed as ambassadors for the tournament and will play an important role throughout the promotional campaigns that will target the younger generations.
Tickets for the tournament will be available for single matches or as block-tickets but rather than focusing efforts on trying to sell match tickets, the Local Organising Committee will adopt an open invitation concept targeting the various sectors of local society.
NURSERIES ZONE – Local Football Nurseries
ONE-TIME ZONE – Youth Centres, Sports Organisations, NGOs, etc.
FOOTBALL WITHOUT FRONTIERS – Immigrants at Open Centres
EDUCATION ZONE – State, Church & Private Schools, University, Junior College and MCAST
MEDIA ZONE – Media houses
FOOTBALL FOR ALL – Grassroots & Special Olympics
CLUB ZONE – Football Clubs
VOLUNTEERS PROGRAMME – General Public
OTHER – Local Councils, Hotels, Supermarkets, etc.
The main sponsors for the tournament will be Adidas and Eurosport while the other official sponsors are Valletta 2018, McDonalds and Coca-Cola.
Bjorn Vassallo finally thanked the members of the LOC, namely Ludovigo Micallef, Alex Manfre, Chris Bonnett and Joe Gauci; tournament director Joe Cassar, the MFA staff, volunteers, the MFA Technical Centre, Police, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Local Government and Culture, UEFA, the MFA Council and MFA Executive Committee and in particular MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo.
Tournament Director Joe Cassar said the biggest challenge was to attract people to the stadium as despite our limitations, in terms of organisation, Malta always did very well in conferences and other events.
MFA Technical Director Robert Gatt said the current squad is based mainly on players born 1997 although there are five players born 1998 and one born 1999. The coach is Sergio Soldano, assisted by Noel Turner and Charles Scerri and goalkeepers’ coach Etienne Mercieca. Sports psychologist Adele Muscat takes care of the players’ psychological aspect.
Gatt said that last year, the team played thirteen matches and in most cases, playing two games in three days as the association wanted to prepare the players to be able to handle the pressure. Towards the end of the month, between the 24th February and 1st March, the team will be taking part in the eighth edition of the Roma Caput Mundi international tournament which will feature the national teams of Albania and San Marino and teams representing the Lazio region, the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti, Greece, Romania and England. Malta will be playing in Group B together with England (Colleges national team), Italy LND and San Marino. The tournament is actually reserved for an older age group but the MFA thought this would pose a good test for the national team.
In view of the UEFA Under-17 Championship finals, the Malta Football Association launched a micro-site within the MFA website at http://uefaunder17.mfa.com.mt
THE FINALS MATCH SCHEDULE
Match Day 1 – 9th May 2014
A3 vs A4 (National Stadium)
A1 vs A2 (National Stadium)
B1 vs B2 (Gozo Stadium)
B3 vs B4 (Gozo Stadium)
Match Day 2 – 12th May 2014
B1 vs B3 (Hibernians Stadium)
B2 vs B4 (Hibernians Stadium)
A1 vs A3 (Gozo Stadium)
A2 vs A4 (Gozo Stadium)
Match Day 3 – 15th May 2014
B2 vs B3 (National Stadium)
A2 vs A3 (National Stadium)
A4 vs A1 (Hibernians Stadium)
B4 vs B1 (Hibernians Stadium)
Semi-Finals – 18th May 2014
Semi-Final 1 (National Stadium)
Semi-Final 2 (National Stadium)
Final – 21st May 2014
Final (National Stadium)