The 2020 UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals have been officially launched in Belfast.
Northern Ireland will host the eight-team UEFA tournament from 19 July to 1 August next year, with matches being played in Belfast, Ballymena, Lurgan and Portadown.
Irish Football Association President David Martin said it was a great honour for the association to host Europe’s largest youth football tournament featuring national teams.
Rising stars of European football are set to play at next year’s event which will feature up to 16 matches over 14 days. There will be 12 group matches, two semi-finals and a final – plus there’s scope for a play-off following the group stages if required.
The venues for the games are the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast, which will host the semi-finals, final and two of Northern Ireland’s three group matches, along with Ballymena Showgrounds, Lurgan’s Mourneview Park and Shamrock Park in Portadown.
The Irish FA President added: “Two years ago we successfully hosted the Women’s U19 Euros and I am certain next year’s event will also be top class. And I believe this tournament will once again showcase Northern Ireland as an excellent sporting venue.”
Aaron Hughes, who recently retired from senior international duty with Northern Ireland after winning 112 caps, has agreed to be the ambassador for the 2020 tournament.
The former Fulham, Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Hearts defender said: “I think it’s fantastic for Northern Ireland to host a tournament of this stature and I was delighted to accept the role of ambassador for the event.
“I am sure football fans here will relish the opportunity to see some of the best young footballers from across Europe in action.”
Tournament Director Peter Gilpin said: “We are confident we can delivera successful U19 Euros that will have long-lasting benefits for football right across Northern Ireland.”
The launch event was staged at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Special guests included UEFA Ambassador Glen Johnson, the former England, Liverpool and Portsmouth player, Northern Ireland senior men’s team manager Michael O’Neill and Northern Ireland U19 manager Stephen Frail.
Also in attendance were Chelsea defender Sam McClelland and Ballinamallard United defender Dean Corrigan, who are both hoping to be in Stephen Frail’s Northern Ireland squad for next year’s U19 Euros. Northern Ireland qualify for the finals as hosts.
The U19 Championship was previously an under-18 competition. It became a U19 event in 2001-02 and Spain have dominated since the switch, triumphing at seven tournaments, including at this year’s finals in Armenia.
Numerous famous players have cut their teeth at the UEFA youth tournament, including former England stars Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Sol Campbell, Spain’s Fernando Torres, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, David Silva and Alvaro Morata, former French internationals Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet and current France star Kylian Mbappe among others.
Qualifying rounds for the U19 Euros 2020 begin in October. The top two in every group, along with the third-placed team with the best record against the leading pair, will follow top seeds Portugal into the elite round in spring 2020. Seven elite round group winners will then join Northern Ireland at next summer’s finals.
Main image: Northern Ireland U19 manager Stephen Frail, UEFA representative Glen Johnson, Chelsea defender Sam McClelland, Ballinamallard Unite player Dean Corrigan and tournament ambassador Aaron Hughes.