Uefa confirmed today at a meeting of their Executive Committee, that due to the Covid-19 pandemic reshaping the footballing calendar, there would be a change to the structure for the U21 European Championships due to be held in 2021.
The final tournament will now be split over two periods, with Hungary and Slovenia remaining as joint hosts of the competition.
The qualification period is due to end in November 2020 and from there the nine group winners, along with the five best runner ups, will be able to begin planning for the group stages of the competition which will run from March 24th to March 31st 2021.
These four groups of four will then see the winners of those groups and their respective runner ups advance to the quarter final stage which will take place from May 31st to June 6th along with subsequently the semi final and the final.
Jim Crawford’s Ireland currently have three games remaining in their qualification campaign and sit impressively atop of their group after a strong run under Stephen Kenny in recent fixtures. With Italy, Iceland and Luxembourg still to come though, qualification is anything but guaranteed.
Crawford was in optimistic form when speaking with fai.ie as he awaits further confirmation of when those remaining qualification games will take place.
"I can see many benefits to the change in format. Having that break in between the group stage and the knock-out phase, if we were to progress to that stage, it would give us a great opportunity to recover and go again."
While uniquely having the finals tournament just before the Senior European Championships may be viewed by some as far from ideal, Crawford see’s many positives from the move.
"During a finals tournament, you can pick up a number of injuries and fatigue can set in so to have a break in between the two stages could work in your favour.
"It doesn't change the focus for us. We're looking to win the remaining group games and that remains the challenge. We'll be very clear with the players going into each match that maximum points is the goal.
"I'm still digesting the changes but nothing changes in regards to the mindset. The fact we've only got three matches remaining in qualifying whilst a lot of teams are squeezing in their fixtures could also work in our favour but we need to remain concentrated on what we need to do."