UEFA's international development tournaments are under way for 2013 – giving boy and girl footballers the chance to show their abilities in a tournament environment.
The Algarve region in Portugal has been the venue for the most recent tournament, with national Under-16 boys and girls teams from Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland taking part in an event where the result was seen perhaps as secondary to making crucial progress as a player.
As part of UEFA's ongoing efforts to develop football across Europe, and in response to feedback received from the UEFA member associations, UEFA has set up the development tournaments to offer young footballing talents an additional opportunity to play competitive international matches.
With this aim in mind, the U16 age category has been selected as UEFA believes this to be a crucial stage in a player's development pathway to the elite level. Such friendly matches, as well as the preparation they involve, are key in facilitating the process of player development.
The tournaments are true learning experiences for the youngsters – not just in fine-tuning skills through practice and guidance, but also in allowing them to appreciate an international and highly competitive atmosphere, and sharing the moment with their peers from other countries.
"The girls have absolutely loved being here," Scotland coach Pauline Hamill, in charge of the female team in Portugal, told UEFA.com. "For us to get the opportunity to come here and play in a development tournament is great, especially at this time of the year. You play on good pitches and in good weather against really good opposition.
"When you can come and play tough matches over five or six days, the players get that experience of playing at a higher level," she added, "and the chance to gel as a group on and off the pitch. It's about the players developing individually and collectively."
Friendships are also being forged at the events. "We all share the same hotel," Hamill explained, "and in the evenings, we've been downstairs with the other teams. The players chat to each other. Sometimes at these tournaments, the players make friends and stay in touch, and they learn what football is like in other countries. It's great to see them mingling."
The U16 development tournaments are also designed to prepare the way for players to move into the U17 age group, where European competition begins in earnest. Further UEFA development tournaments at boy and girls' U16 levels are taking place throughout Europe in the coming months:
10–19 March: Croatia
13–22 March: Greece
7–16 April: Spain
7–16 April: Romania
10–19 April: Wales
11–15 April: Poland (boys only)
15–20 April: Bulgaria
29 April–8 May: Latvia
6–15 May: Republic of Ireland
20–29 May: Belarus
20–29 May: Hungary
15–22 June: Albania
20–24 August: Poland (girls only)
In addition, UEFA development tournaments are being held at women's U17 level:
24–27 April: Moldova
8–12 May: Lithuania
12–15 May: Israel
13–17 May: FYR Macedonia
19–23 June: Estonia
21–25 June: Serbia
26–29 June: Ukraine
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