It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the final tournament of the 2006 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, to be held at six venues in Portugal.
This is the fifth such Under-21 final round to involve eight teams, after Spain won in Romania in 1998, Italy's triumph in Slovakia in 2000, the crowning of the Czech Republic four years ago in Switzerland, and Italy's victory in 2004 in Germany.
This year's UEFA European Under-21 Championship will be a bit special, as UEFA is going back to Portugal after the success of a fantastic UEFA EURO 2004™.
In addition, it will be the last edition of the tournament to be played on even years as the UEFA Executive Committee decided to move the competition to odd years, to step out of the shadow created by FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships.
The 2007 finals will therefore take place in the Netherlands, who have been appointed as hosts and will therefore not take part in the qualification process.
All this together should give us the opportunity to further develop the UEFA European Under-21 Championship and increase its attractiveness to fans, media and sponsors alike.
Just four days after the final match in the magnificent Bessa stadium in Porto, is the start of the World Cup in Germany. Such is the quality of the game at Under-21 level that many of the players that are present at this final tournament in Portugal will rapidly progress to represent their country at full national team level and might possibly be the stars of the UEFA EURO 2008™.
This event therefore promises to be a magnificent occasion for fans to get to know these rising stars and witness their tremendous footballing skills.
I also hope that the teams play fair and enjoy the great atmosphere created by a competition like this and the legendary Portuguese hospitality.
It only remains for me to offer my sincere thanks to Gilberto Parca Madaíl, President of the Portuguese Football Federation and a member of the UEFA Executive Committee, and to the entire Portuguese Football Federation for all their hard work and commitment in preparing and staging such a major tournament. I am sure it will be a success.
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