When Oguzhan Özyakup captains the Netherlands against England in their UEFA European Under-17 Championship Group B opener in Gera on Wednesday morning, there will not just be international pride on the line, but intra-club bragging rights.
A year ago Özyakup, then 15, made two brief substitute appearances for the Netherlands in the Under-17 finals, including one against the nation of his parents' births, hosts Turkey. Since then he has been appointed Netherlands captain and left AZ Alkmaar for Arsenal FC, which added to his excitement when he heard the draw for their group in Germany.
"I remember like it was yesterday," Özyakup said. "It was a Friday in April and I was lying on my bed watching television. Suddenly my room-mate and Arsenal player Emannuel Frimpong stood in the doorway. He was laughing. So I asked him, 'What's up?'. He said, 'Haven't you heard yet? We're at the same group at EURO!' Since that moment we've talked about the championships every single day."
The pair had a dress rehearsal for the match on their PlayStation. "I won 3-1," Özyakup said. "Since that game Emannuel has refused to play a second one. Of course 3-1 will be a perfect result for Wednesday's game." It would also reverse the fortunes of two years before, when Arsenal's Nacer Barazite lined up for the Netherlands against club-mates Henri Lansbury and Rhys Murphy of England in their last group game in the U17 finals, the Dutch losing 4-2 to be eliminated.
Frimpong is on the standby list for England's 18-man squad in this tournament, but Arsenal players Benik Afobe, Luke Freeman and Jack Wilshere could all line up against Özyakup on Wednesday. "They keep saying Holland has no chance, over and over again," Özyakup added, "but of course I stand up for the Dutch. We won two qualification rounds, so I know we can play some good football. And we will show it in Germany."
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