With the Uefa Under-17 Championship set to begin on Monday, Cyprus is for the first time about to host a major football tournament.

A total of 31 football matches will take place between Monday and the final on June 5, with 16 young international teams set to take to the pitch.

Four games are set to kick off the action on Monday, with Serbia and the Ukraine to face off at Paralimni’s Tasos Markou Stadium and Denmark and Wales to go head-to-head at the Dasaki Achnas Stadium at 6pm, before the host nation will take its bow at 8.30pm.

Cyprus’ opening game is against the Czech Republic at Larnaca’s AEK Arena, with the game set to mark the first time any Cypriot national team has played at the finals of any major football tournament.

At the same time on the opening night, Croatia and Austria will play each other at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Larnaca.

The tournament’s second night will see the other eight qualified teams appear for the first time, with a couple of potentially spicy fixtures in store.

At 6pm, Slovakia and Sweden will play each other at the Tasos Markou Stadium in Paralimni, while the people of Achna will be treated to the Iberian Derby between Spain and Portugal.

Italy will then play against Poland at 8.30pm at Larnaca’s AEK Arena, while at the same time at the Ammochostos Stadium in the same town, one of the oldest international rivalries in the world, between France and England, will be restoked.

Each team will play a total of three group stage games, with Cyprus’ two subsequent fixtures set to be held on May 23 against Serbia at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium and on May 26 against Ukraine at the AEK Arena.

Cyprus, as the tournament’s host, is in Group A alongside its three aforementioned opponents: Ukraine, Serbia, and the Czech Republic.

Group B is comprised of Denmark, Austria, Croatia, and Wales, Group C is comprised of Italy, Sweden, Slovakia, and Poland, and Group D is comprised of France, Portugal, Spain, and England.

The group phase will come to an end on May 27, with the knockout phase set to begin with the quarter finals two days later. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the quarter finals.

Quarter final fixtures will take place on May 29 and May 30, while both semi final fixtures will take place on June 2. The final will take place on June 5 at Limassol’s Alphamega Stadium.

Speaking last week at the unveiling of the tournament’s trophy and mascot, Cyprus Football Association (CFA) chairman George Koumas said the organisation of such a tournament is “within Cyprus’ means”.

He added that the tournament was initially supposed to take place in 2021 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said, “it is a big event, it is the last ever under 17 Euros, and for us it is a big test because the same conditions and requirements apply to us as for the Euro in Germany, only in miniature.”

Speaking on the matter of Cyprus’ team, he said he expects the team to have a “proper and dignified presence” and that the CFA will “support them as much as we can so we can in future ask for something even bigger for Cyprus”.

Cypriot national under 17 team coach Chrysis Michael said, “this is the biggest and most important football event Cyprus has ever undertaken. Congratulations to the chairman and the other members of the association for this great event.”

He also called on the public to “embrace the matches, they will see future stars of European football and of course our own children, and Cyprus will need support in these games.”

Asked how far the Cypriot team can go in the tournament, he said, “we knew from the first instant that Cyprus is the smallest country on the football map. We worked very hard these 15 months with the boys.”

“We will perform as we should in every game, be competitive, and whatever the best outcome is, we will welcome it,” he said.

Looking ahead to the tournament itself, the Portuguese team may be considered favourites to win the tournament, having won all their games in qualifying.

They rounded off their perfect qualifying campaign with a 3-2 victory at home against Germany at the end of March, having previously brushed aside Croatia, the Republic of Ireland, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Albania.

Spain have the highest coefficient ranking at the tournament and successfully qualified despite falling to a 3-1 defeat away in Austria on Tuesday.

Previous emphatic victories, including a 7-0 thrashing of Malta away, a 5-0 walloping of North Macedonia, a 5-1 hammering of Slovakia, and a 5-0 battering of Slovenia, saw them over the line.

Spanish striker Adrian Arnucio, who plays his club football for Real Valladolid, finished as the top scorer in qualifying.

Another high-profile player set to feature at the tournament is England’s Ethan Nwaneri. Nwaneri became the youngest player to ever play in the English Premier League when he came off the bench to replace Fabio Vieira aged just 15 years and 181 days old in 2022.

Meanwhile, Arsenal teammate and Wales defender Brayden Clarke said, “I’m really excited to have another great opportunity out in Cyprus with the lads.”

Clarke is the only player from his team who appeared at last year’s tournament in Hungary, and said, “I think the all-round experience in Hungary was big for me, especially as a young player.”

“I think I can take the experience and explain to the other players how it will be because it’s a big tournament for us all involved,” he added.

Looking ahead to the tournament and Wales’ fixtures against Denmark, Austria, and Croatia, he said, “all three games are tough games for us because they’re three big nations.”

“They performed well in the qualifying rounds, but I think for us as a group, we’re all confident we can get good results to hopefully push out of the group.”