Don't sneeze at Europe's U21 support
On a day when political support in Europe for Israel is eroding and our friends on the continent are about to vote against the Israeli position at the United Nations, it is heartwarming - and not at all trivial - that the heads of European soccer are coming as one to Tel Aviv; that Israeli soccer is being embraced, and that the draw for the European Championship for youth last night was a very respectable and successful event.
It was the fruit of cooperation between UEFA and the Israel Football Association.
The comparisons between the said European Championship and youth tournaments are ridiculous and out of place, attesting to a certain lack of understanding by those who make them.
The European Championship for under-21 teams is not only the most important non-adult UEFA tournament, but the third most important in the organization after the Euro and the Champions League. It's much more than the Europa League, for example, about which UEFA's Michel Platini said yesterday might be canceled or overhauled.
Consider the list of hosts since the competition became a tournament and not just a set of home-and-home matches - Spain and France, Germany and the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark, as well as Romania and Slovakia. Eight of the ten hosted the men's Euro, some of them are powerhouses. This is not a tournament to be held in Malta, Andorra or Luxembourg.
The Czech Republic and Bulgaria lost to Israel in the fight to host it. How can this not be considered an accomplishment for Israel?
All the major teams will be at the under-21 Euro, including Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and England.
One should remember that the players coming to Israel are not teens who may turn into something one day but rather members of clubs across the continent who have already made it. Some of them are even on the national teams of their country or the most glamorous clubs. Some of them will be the headline names of European soccer in the coming years.
In the last tournament in 2011, the outstanding player was one Jan Mata, who has made waves since then, playing for Chelsea. It will be interesting to see who will be the outstanding player of Israel 2013.
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