A former international and now tournament ambassador for the upcoming UEFA European Under-17 Championship, Marko Simeunović is relishing the prospect of such a prestigious tournament coming to his homeland. A goalkeeper during his playing days, Simeunović hopes the U17 finals, which start on Friday, could be the start of bigger and better things for Slovenia.
UEFA.com: What does it mean for you to be a tournament ambassador?
Marko Simeunović: It's a big responsibility, and means a lot to me. I was lucky that I had the privilege of doing the draw for Slovenia. I have to confess it was not easy, but I am satisfied, our group is very interesting. We play the first match against Holland in Maribor, that is just a perfect start, and I expect a lot of fans. All the other matches are a big opportunity for all the young players, and I think they have a big chance to get through to the next stage.
UEFA.com: As an experienced former international player, what do you think this kind of tournament means for Slovenia, for young Slovenian players, and also for the Football Association of Slovenia (NZS)?
Simeunović: When I visited the Slovenian FA recently, I realised that everybody is working on this. The organisation is very complex, it is the first time our country has hosted such an event, and we have to do everything to show our best in front of all the UEFA representatives. This could be very important for the future, and I hope this is not going to be the last championship. There are also some older categories, and maybe one day we can organise an even bigger event. We definitely have to modernise our infrastructure, and I think we are on the right track.
UEFA.com: Do you remember when you were 16 or 17 and playing football? What do you remember from that time, and what can you tell us about these young guys?
Simeunović: It's impossible to compare past times with the current ones. When I was that young it was still Yugoslavia, and Slovenians were known as fantastic skiers and hockey players, so you had to show extraordinary talent if you wanted to be called up for the Yugoslavian national team. There were only a few Slovenian players who made it into the Yugoslavian national team.
It was also very rare that any player made it to this kind of tournament. Now it is very different, and all these tournaments are quite popular. There's something going on every year, and I think that is very good, so all these young players can see what they can expect later on at bigger tournaments.
UEFA.com: What can we expect from the Slovenian team? There are sons, Luka and Roy, of two of your former colleagues from the national team, Zlatko Zahovič and Mladen Rudonja.
Simeunović: If those two guys are as good as their fathers than the opposition will be in trouble! I don't know the whole national team very well, I've seen a couple of games and training sessions. There are a lot of young talents, and now they have a big chance to go to the next stage. The draw was quite good; of course Holland are going to be a difficult opponent. From what I've heard, they are big favourites, but the other two teams in our group are beatable.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.