The UEFA Regions' Cup proved to be a staging post on the way to playing in the UEFA Champions League for full-back Tony. The 30-year-old represented Braga as they finished as runners-up in the 2001 edition, and was swiftly snapped up by professional side GD Chaves, moving on to CF Estrela da Amadora and then to CFR 1907 Cluj, where he won the Romanian title and played in the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2008/09 and 2010/11. Now back in Portugal with Vitória SC, he reflected on "the competition which kick-started my career".
"I am amazed the Regions' Cup doesn't get more coverage. You can't compare it with the Champions League or the World Cup, but I can assure you that the passion is the same, if not bigger. It's amazing that UEFA came up with this idea and they deserve all the credit.
"When you're young you always have dreams but I would be lying if I said that back in 2001 I believed I would play in Europe's top club competition. At the time, I was just proud to be able to represent Portugal; that alone was a dream come true. We lost in the final but we were still very proud.
"The quality is definitely there at this level and there are players with a lot of skill. Besides that, everyone will want to impress at the finals as this will be almost certainly the players' only chance to play in an international tournament.
"Playing at this level takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice because the players have their own lives and jobs, so it is very difficult to find the time to train together. Nevertheless I'm sure Braga will overcome all those obstacles and prevail this year, and triumph in the competition we came so close to winning back in 2001. I will never forget the competition which allowed me to become a pro in this sport. I always have that in mind and I will be cheering for the Portuguese side."
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