The history of the Under-21 European Championship is by no means a short one as the upcoming tournament in Poland will be its 21st edition. For the first time, twelve teams will compete rather than eight. The rules mean that the three group winners and the best runner-up will progress to the semi-finals.
Apart from Luigi Di Biagio’s Azzurrini and the hosts Poland, the Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Portugal, Denmark, reigning champions Sweden, Germany, Slovakia, England, Spain and Serbia will all be competing in Poland.
The competition has been held every two years since 1978 when it replaced a similar Under-23 competition. Since 2007, the competition has been held in odd-numbered years while the winner has been decided in a one-leg final since 1994.
Italy are the most successful team at the competition with five wins from seven final appearances. An incredible run between 1992 and 1996 saw Cesare Maldini’s win the trophy three times on the bounce. Spain are the next most successful nation with four titles. Italy’s last win was in 2004. Italian players such as Pirlo, Cannavaro and Gilardino have been named as player of the tournament as have foreign stars such as Suker, Figo and Cech with the competition acting as a launching pad for young talent.
One note, while the competition is called the Under-21 European Championship, players are essentially Under-23. They have to be Under-21 when qualifying begins so for this edition players born after 1st January 1994 are eligible.