Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 August 2019

Ireland's chance to regain reputation as U17 European Championships kick off

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is expected at Tallaght Stadium on Monday night to watch his son Theo play for France against Sweden. Photo: Javier Barbancho
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is expected at Tallaght Stadium on Monday night to watch his son Theo play for France against Sweden. Photo: Javier Barbancho

John Fallon

Following six weeks of turmoil, Irish football gets an opportunity to regain its reputation by hosting the Under-17 European Championship finals.

Sixteen teams will battle it out over the same amount of days for the coveted trophy but, more importantly, offer the locals attending the seven venues a glimpse of future talent.

Select a sprinkling of stars across Europe and the likelihood is they first came to prominence at this annual tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, David de Gea, Toni Kroos, Luis Figo and Wayne Rooney are just some of those to have participated at this stage.

They all encapsulate the best of the beautiful game, a far cry from the battering taken by the host organisation - the Football Association of Ireland - since St Patrick's Day.

Summits at government committees and on top floors of hotels have gained more attention than action on the pitch. When the deluge of publicity was briefly punctuated by on-field matters, it was balls of a tennis variety that made the news.

This tournament has come at an ideal time for football, and not football politics, to retake centre stage.

European football at this age group has rarely been stronger. Two years ago, two teams from Europe reached the World Cup final at Under-17 level for the first time since 2009. The strength in England's set-up was underlined by their convincing defeat of Spain.

All the major hitters are involved again and the seeding system has lumped plenty of them in together. For instance, Longford Town's City Calling Stadium hosts France against England tonight in Group B. That very group also features holders Holland.

Zinedine Zidane is expected at Tallaght Stadium on Monday to watch son Theo, also of Real Madrid, in the French line-up against Sweden.

Humdinger

Another humdinger of a pool is Group D. Tomorrow sees Spain take on Austria in Bray before the powerhouses of Italy and Germany clash at Tallaght Stadium. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday of a long weekend.

The tournament for the youngest players under the UEFA umbrella will continue to be used as a trialling ground for format tweaks. After being the first event to dispense with the traditional sequence of takers in a penalty shoot-out two years ago, all participants will be permitted to bring on five substitutes during the matches, which last 80 minutes.

But it's not about the tweaks. It's about the young talent, and Ireland, for the next fortnight or so, will play host to a wealth of young football talent.

Irish Independent

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