UEFA European Under-21 Championship
Winners Cup of the UEFA Under 21 Championship
|Number of teams||
|Current champions||23x15px Spain (4th title)|
|Most successful team(s)||23x15px Italy (5 titles)|
|33px 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship|
The UEFA European Under-21 Championship (also known as the UEFA Euro U-21s) is a football competition organised by the sport's European governing body, UEFA. It is held every two years. The competition has existed in its current form since 1978. It was preceded by the Under 23 Challenge Cup which ran from 1967 to 1970. A true Under 23 championship was then formed, starting in 1972.
The age limit was reduced to 21 for the 1978 championship and it has remained so since. To be eligible for the campaign ending in 2015, players need to be born in or after 1992. Many can be actually 23 years old by the time the finals tournament takes place; however, when the qualification process began (late 2013) all players would have been 21 or under.
Under-21 matches are typically played on the day before senior internationals and where possible, the same qualifying groups and fixtures were played out. This was not true for the shortened 2006-2007 Championship.
This tournament has been considered a stepping stone toward the senior team. Players such as 2014 World Cup winner Mesut Özil, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Luís Figo, Petr Čech, 2010 World Cup winner Iker Casillas, 2006 World Cup winners Francesco Totti, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Alberto Gilardino and Andrea Pirlo, and Euro 2004 winner Georgios Karagounis began their international careers in the youth teams.
Up to and including the 1992 competition, all entrants were divided into eight qualification groups, the eight winners of which formed the quarter-finals lineup. The remaining fixtures were played out on a two-legged, home and away basis to determine the eventual winner.
For the 1994 competition, one of the semi-finalists, France, was chosen as a host for the (single-legged) semi-finals, 3rd place playoff and final. Similarly, Spain was chosen to host the last four matches in 1996.
For 1998, nine qualification groups were used, as participation had reached 46, nearly double the 24 entrants in 1976. The top seven group winners qualified automatically for the finals, whilst the eighth- and ninth-best qualifiers, Greece and England, played-off for the final spot. The remaining matches, from the quarter-finals onward, were held in Romania, one of the eight qualifiers.
The 2000 competition also had nine groups, but the nine winners and seven runners-up went into a two-legged playoff to decide the eight qualifiers. From those, Slovakia was chosen as host. For the first time, the familiar finals group stage was employed, with the two winners contesting a final, and two runners-up contesting the 3rd-place playoff. The structure in 2002 was identical, except for the introduction of a semi-finals round after the finals group stage. Switzerland hosted the 2002 finals.
In 2004, ten qualification groups were used, with the group winners and six best runners-up going into the playoff. Germany was host that year. For 2006, the top two teams of eight large qualification groups provided the 16 teams for the playoffs, held in November 2005. Portugal hosted the finals.
Then followed the switch to odd years. The change was made because the senior teams of many nations often chose to promote players from their under-21s team as their own qualification campaign intensified. Staggering the tournaments allowed players more time to develop in the under-21 team rather than get promoted too early and end up becoming reserves for the seniors.
The 2007 competition actually began before the 2006 finals, with a qualification round to eliminate eight of the lowest-ranked nations. For the first time, the host (Netherlands) was chosen ahead of the qualification section. As hosts, Netherlands qualified automatically. Coincidentally, the Dutch team had won the 2006 competition - the holders would normally have gone through the qualification stage. The other nations were all drawn into fourteen three-team groups. The 14 group winners were paired in double-leg play-off to decide the seven qualifiers alongside the hosts.
The 2015 finals will be the last eight-team finals as it will be expanded to twelve teams starting from 2017.
Under-23 Challenge Cup winners
This was competed for on a basis similar to a boxing title belt. The holders played a randomly[clarification needed] chosen opponent for the championship. This format was soon dropped in favour of one more familiar to the sport of football.
|June 1967||23x15px Bulgaria||23x15px East Germany||Stara Zagora, Bulgaria|
|September 1967||23x15px Bulgaria||23x15px Finland||Burgas, Bulgaria|
|November 1967||23x15px Bulgaria||23x15px Czechoslovakia||Pleven, Bulgaria|
|April 1968||23x15px Bulgaria||23x15px Netherlands||Sofia, Bulgaria|
|October 1968||23x15px Yugoslavia||23x15px Bulgaria||Rousse, Bulgaria|
|June 1969||23x15px Yugoslavia||23x15px Spain||Novi Sad, Yugoslavia|
|November 1969||23x15px Yugoslavia||23x15px Sweden||Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia|
|March 1970||23x15px Yugoslavia||23x15px Greece||Athens, Greece|
Held only three times before it was relabelled by UEFA.
|2–2 / 3–1
5–3 on aggregate
|2–3 / 4–0
6–3 on aggregate
|1–1 / 2–1
3–2 on aggregate
Winners and runners-up
|23x15px Italy||5 (1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004)||2 (1986, 2013)|
|23x15px Spain||4 (1986, 1998, 2011, 2013)||2 (1984, 1996)|
|23x15px England||2 (1982, 1984)||1 (2009)|
|23x15px Soviet Union||2 (1980, 1990)||–|
|23x15px Netherlands||2 (2006, 2007)||–|
|23x15px Serbia 1||1 (1978)||3 (1990, 2004, 2007)|
|23x15px France||1 (1988)||1 (2002)|
|23x15px Czech Republic||1 (2002)||1 (2000)|
|23x15px Germany/23x15px West Germany/23x15px East Germany||1 (2009)||3 (1978, 1980, 1982)|
|23x15px Greece||–||2 (1988, 1998)|
|23x15px Sweden||–||1 (1992)|
|23x15px Portugal||–||1 (1994)|
|23x15px Ukraine||–||1 (2006)|
|23x16px Switzerland||–||1 (2011)|
Under-21 Golden Player
- 1978 - Vahid Halilhodžić - 23x15px Yugoslavia
- 1980 - Anatoliy Demyanenko - 23x15px Soviet Union
- 1982 - Rudi Völler - 23x15px Germany
- 1984 - Mark Hateley - 23x15px England
- 1986 - Manuel Sanchis - 23x15px Spain
- 1988 - Laurent Blanc - 23x15px France
- 1990 - Davor Šuker - 23x15px Yugoslavia
- 1992 - Renato Buso - 23x15px Italy
- 1994 - Luís Figo - 23x15px Portugal
- 1996 - Fabio Cannavaro - 23x15px Italy
- 1998 - Francesc Arnau - 23x15px Spain
- 2000 - Andrea Pirlo - 23x15px Italy
- 2002 - Petr Čech - 23x15px Czech Republic
- 2004 - Alberto Gilardino - 23x15px Italy
- 2006 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - 23x15px Netherlands
- 2007 - Royston Drenthe - 23x15px Netherlands
- 2009 - Marcus Berg - 23x15px Sweden
- 2011 - Juan Mata - 23x15px Spain
- 2013 - Thiago Alcântara - 23x15px Spain
- UEFA European U-21 Championship at uefa.com
- The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation Contains full record of U-21/U-23 Championships.
- "U21 final tournament expanding to 12 teams". UEFA.com. 24 January 2014.