The eighth International Under-17 Tournament in Minsk last month was an opportunity for players involved in UEFA European Championship qualifying to gain invaluable experience.
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Stars of tomorrow were given a chance to shine in January at the eighth International Under-17 Tournament organised by the Football Federation of Belarus (BFF) and the Minsk City Executive Committee.
Players born in 1995 from Belgium, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine joined the host nation for the UEFA-supported event in Minsk, with six of the eight participating teams also gaining valuable experience ahead of their assignments in the elite round of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in late March.
"The geography of the tournament has expanded," Yulia Zenkovich of the BFF told UEFA.com. "We not only have neighbouring countries participating but also nations like Belgium, Finland and Serbia. The interest from spectators and media has also increased, while during the last two tournaments some key matches, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, were broadcast live on the internet."
This time it was Ukraine who took the honours in the Belarusian capital, while, among the individual player awards, the fans saw Giorgi Papunashvili of Georgia named the best midfielder. Papunashvili and his peers will aim to follow the example of seven players, including captain Mikhail Sivakov, who took part in the inaugural event in 2005 before progressing to the Belarus Under-21 side that reached the UEFA European U21 Championship semi-finals in Denmark last summer.
"We hope the players who participated in Minsk will gain experience and go on to have successful careers. We also hope they will take back to their home countries positive impressions of Minsk and the people who came to support them," said Zenkovich. "It makes us proud to see the joy of the players involved and it makes us feel these kinds of tournaments are really worthwhile."