"We're trying to talk to the weather people but they won't do anything for us," joked Leinster & Munster coach Gerry Smith, after his team had spent time acclimatising to the Portuguese heat with a mid-morning kickabout on the sandy beaches of Ofir. "We're looking for rain, wind and snow."
Though the atmosphere may be jovial, there is no doubting that the 7th UEFA Regions' Cup is serious business for each of the teams competing in Group B. "This is very important for us because we are not here only to play; we are learning at the same time," revealed Ankara coach Hames Şentürk. "It is showing us how to be more professional in football. There is also a big interest in us from the Turkish media and it will be very important for us to use this to improve amateur football in Turkey."
Ankara − the only team in the tournament to have made it through both the preliminary and intermediary rounds – have been paired with seasoned campaigners Leinster & Munster in their opening Group B match. It is the fourth time an Irish side has qualified for the finals, but the squad from the Turkish capital are hoping their extensive run in the 2011 competition to date could give them the upper hand.
"That is definitely a big advantage for us," admitted Şentürk. "This team has played together for a long time and we maybe know each other better than the other teams."
Şentürk's side have not shirked on preparation for their first appearance in the finals – 25 days at a camp in Ankara, and a further three days in Istanbul − a fact not lost on Leinster & Munster coach Smith. "It shows the level of professionalism and the enthusiasm that amateur players put together in a bid to win the Regions' Cup," he said. "It's a fantastic, innovative idea by UEFA and I just hope it continues. The standard is getting higher and higher, and better and better every time we get here."
There is certainly no shortage of teams confidently looking to walk away with the top accolade on 28 June. South Region Russia coach Oleg Sanko, for one, has eyes firmly on the prize: "We believe that all teams have high targets at this tournament and, of course, we would like to get to the highest level and win the Regions' Cup."
That is an aim shared by Belgrade coach Jovica Milikić, who has taken over from Vladeta Tomić for the final stages of the competition. "I expect good games and good play, and hope, maybe, that we can win the whole tournament here in Portugal," he declared.
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