With the UEFA European Under-17 Championship beginning in Slovenia on Friday week, UEFA.com hears from tournament ambassador Sašo Udovič. A former Slovenian international himself, Udovič knows better than most what it means for his country to be hosting the tournament and what the home nation should expect when France, Iceland, Georgia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland come to town.
UEFA.com: Mr Udovič, how is Slovenia prepared for the Championship?
Sašo Udovič: I believe we are on the right track. I would just like to thank the people who chose me to be the ambassador for this project.
I believe this tournament is by far the most important and prestigious football project since our independence. I believe all the people working in Slovenian football will help to make this project a big success, and an event organised at a high level that will not only promote the football side of Slovenia, but Slovenia as a whole.
UEFA.com: At the tournament there will be a rather surprising mix of countries. Are you surprised at how the qualifiers went?
Udovič: Yes, maybe Georgia are a big surprise, but that only means that they are a great team, if they have beaten Spain and England, which are big football nations. I think it is important that the two groups are equal in terms of quality. In our group the big favourites are the Dutch, but our boys must know this is a great opportunity for them. We must not put unnecessary pressure on them; they must play the way they know. They have to find that extra motivation to succeed, since this represents an excellent opportunity to be seen by the scouts, which is important for the future.
UEFA.com: Why should people come to watch these matches?
Udovič: This tournament gives you the opportunity to see seven top European teams, which are the next generation of stars. Moreover, there is the home side, which I believe will repay us on the pitch for our support. The tournament is a unique opportunity to see the talent of Europe at work in our home country, and that is the main reason why I would choose to go and see the games.
UEFA.com: You had a successful international career not only in the senior team, but also in the youth sides. What does it mean for a player of this age to play this tournament on home soil?
Udovič: I think it gives that extra to push you beyond your limits. I remember it meant a lot to me to play in the national shirt, even though things were a bit different at the time, because we were in the process of becoming independent. Regardless of that, I believe hearing your national anthem before the game, and playing with the Slovene symbol on your chest, makes you feel pride and pushes you to give more. It just makes you more motivated, and I believe these boys will prove it and show their heart and their qualities.
UEFA.com: What would be a good result for the Slovenian team?
Udovič: That we become European champions! Though I believe we have to be realistic. Finishing second in the group would be a great achievement. The big favourites for the tournament are, in my opinion, France, Netherlands and Germany. However, I would not discount the home nation, since it has always been the case that the national team has performed very well. I believe Slovenia can also achieve big things at this tournament.
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