Despite its many issues, FIFA does the best job of any sport I know of keeping all the matches around the world relevant.
Whether at the club or national level, the implications of any match are usually far-reaching.
For example, the matches played in the EPL have added meaning due to the importance of finishing in the Top-4 and qualifying for Champions League play the following season. Similarly, winning the Champions League qualifies the winner to play in the FIFA Club World Cup to determine the best club team in the world.
FIFA as an organization is far from perfect, but the bevy of tournaments it offers helps to tie the leagues around the world to one another, which makes football a truly global sport.
As fans, we're always interested in discovering the latest young star to emerge in the world of football. FIFA helps to highlight these players with two tournaments: FIFA Under-17 and FIFA Under-20 World Cups.
These are national level tournaments for players Under-17 and Under-20 respectively. They're similar to the World Cup except in the fact that they're restricted to younger players.
FIFA Under-20 World Cup
The FIFA Under-20 World Cup is held every two years. Next year, this tournament will be held in Colombia from July 29, 2011 to August 20, 2011.
In order to qualify for the tournament, an under-20 national side must first qualify in its regional confederation. For UEFA, the qualifying tournament is the UEFA Under-19 Championship.
The final round for this tournament was played over the summer from July 18-30 with the following teams from Europe qualifying: Austria, England, Portugal, Croatia, France and Spain.
These six teams qualified as the best three teams from each of the two groups.
UEFA Under-19 Championships
The teams that qualified are based on the 2009/10 UEFA Under-19 Championship. Qualifying tournaments are generally played a year in advance.
So, the teams that are in the Champions League this year actually qualified for it at the end of their last domestic season (last spring).
First, some criteria: A player must have been born on or after January 1, 1992; each team is allowed to carry 18 players (incl. 2 goalkeepers) at any one time; for registration purposes, each team submits a provisional 18 player roster to the UEFA Match Delegate.
They are allowed to amend this list up until the qualifying and elite rounds start, at which point they must set their final 18 man roster.
Before the final round starts, UEFA requires each team to submit a final 18 man roster for the remainder of the tournaments. Thus, different players can be "called up" to the Under-19 National Team at various times throughout the tournament. This occurs for several reasons but usually do to either injury or strategic changes.
It's important to remember that these Under-19 National sides are still considered amateur or youth squads. There is no guarantee a specific player will be called up to the Under-21 National side. The Under-21's are important because they are often a pipeline for the men's senior national team, which competes at both the Olympics and the World Cup.
What Under-19's, and to a lesser extent Under-17's, provide is a glimpse into the future. The tournaments provides a forum for helping to recognize who some of the bright young stars of tomorrow may be.
Team Profiles: England
The current squad consists of the following players:
Jed Steer (18) - Norwich
Samuel Johnstone (17) - Manchester United
Aziz Deen-Conteh (17) - Chelsea
Angus MacDonald (18) - Reading
Ezekiel Fryers (18) - Manchester United
Bruno Pilatos (17) - Middlesbrough
Jack Mills (18) - Reading
Andre Wisdom (17) - Liverpool
Ross Barkley (16) - Everton
Harry Kane (17) - Tottenham
Jonjo Shelvey (18) - Liverpool
Luke Williams (17) - Middlesbrough
John Bostock (18) - Tottenham
Joshua McEachran (17) - Chelsea
George Thorne (17) - West Bromwich Albion
Benik Afobe (17) - Arsenal
Connor Wickham (17)- Ipswitch Town
Michael Ngoo (18) - Liverpool
There have been a number of other recent callups which you can see at the FA's website. I'll take a look at the other qualifying european teams in a later post.