Maltese players taking part in the UEFA Under-17 Championship have attracted the interest of scouts watching the final tournament and stand good chances of being invited for trials abroad. This was revealed by MFA Chief Executive Officer and Local Organising Committee chairman Bjorn Vassallo during a press conference on the eve of the semi-finals.
Vassallo said that when the association was entrusted with the organisation of the UEFA Under-17 Championship finals, the MFA was happy to host the tournament but was anxious about the challenge this offered and therefore giving the hundred percent commitment was of utmost performance. However after the first three match-days, one can easily say that the association passed the test with flying colours.
Photos: Copyright © Joe Borg
The MFA CEO said that in the tournament’s launch last February, MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo had said that this was not only an event for the football community but for all Malta. He said Malta was gaining from this not only in terms of football but Malta as a destination. Vassallo said the MFA was determined to rise for the challenge and pay the faith UEFA and Michel Platini showed in us.
Bjorn Vassallo thanked all those involved in one way or another for the hard work and enthusiasm shown, saying this was a unique opportunity for all.
Vassallo said the REACH OUT campaign was a huge success and this showed the way how the MFA is building the bonding between children and the national teams. As part of this campaign, players visited schools, encouraging them to follow national teams.
“Our participation was part of a long-term development for players in our Academy. We are excited that the investment is paying back. The team responded well despite not obtaining any points. The players showed confidence and created chances. We cannot forget that we met a country like Turkey with a population of 77 million and England with a population of 53 million.”
“We will continue to work hard and continue to develop our talent. We are committed to continue developing players for the future. Scouts are following local players and there is a good chance of them being invited for trials abroad. Our aim is to raise the level of the local game and produce players who can make it at top level,” concluded Bjorn Vassallo who also revealed that UEFA President Michel Platini will be present in Malta for a few hours on Wednesday to attend for the final.
Tournament director Joe Cassar said this was a huge experience for the local organisation which boasted of a team who worked hard so that the tournament could run smoothly. This was the first time for Malta to host a tournament with four matches being played on one day unlike the usual mini-tournaments hosted by the association. Cassar said UEFA was satisfied with what the local organisation did so far.
Joe Cassar said UEFA Grassroots Day will be celebrated on Sunday at the Centenary Stadium with participants from Special Olympics Malta and youth nurseries. He said the association received full cooperation from UEFA in the organisation of Sunday’s event.
MFA Head of Marketing Norman Saliba said the REACH OUT campaign was a huge success from all aspects, exceeding the association’s expectations.
Children from eighty-two schools and forty-six nurseries were among those who attended for the various matches. There was also a good response from Local Councils but admitted he expected better response from other sports organisations and religious groups.
Out of the 30,349 who attended for the twelve matches in the group stage, around 24,000 watched games after obtaining tickets through the REACH OUT campaign. The best attendances were for the Malta vs England match with 7,015 spectators and for the Malta vs Turkey game with 8,129 spectators. He admitted the association expected higher attendances for matches not involving national team considering low ticket price.
Around 8,500 spectators are expected to attend for the semi-finals and final thanks to the REACH OUT campaign.
“We wanted to sow seeds of pride for our national teams. We gave some children their very first opportunity to watch a game at a stadium giving them a first taste to enjoying an experience at the stadium,” said Norman Saliba.
Saliba concluded by thanking the Ministry for Education and the Education Division and in particular Minister Evarist Bartolo, Permanent Secretary Joe Caruana and Director General George Borg; the Gozo Football Association and in particular Joe Bajada and Tony Grech; Alfred Cachia, Joe Mallia and Lawrence Ellul; KSU; MCAST and in particular Stephen Cachia and Adele Muscat; the Youth Football Association; Assocjazzjoni Kunsilli Lokali and in particular Marc Sant, Special Olympics Malta and in particular Anna Calleja; Fr Alfred Vella; AWAS; Maria Mifsud and the sponsors.