His first UEFA European Under-19 Championship ended in the disappointment of a final defeat but for Greece's Sotiris Ninis, the 2007 tournament in Austria marked the latest step in a burgeoning career already rich in promise and potential.
Just 17 at the time of the finals and the youngest member of the squad, Ninis belied his tender years to produce a string of fine performances on the right of the Greece midfield as Nikolaos Nioplias' side unexpectedly reached the final. The tournament capped a remarkable year for Ninis, who made his debut for Panathiaikos FC aged 16 in January 2007 and told UEFA.com: "It's been very sudden. It's a great time for me. For the first half of the season I was a ball boy. For the second, I was in the team and now I've played in the UEFA Cup, the Greek Cup final and league games."
The teenager underlined his potential in Austria, playing all three games as his team claimed second place in Group B behind Spain and scoring a crucial goal in the semi-final against Germany, with ten-man Greece twice coming from behind to snatch a last-gasp 3-2 win. The creative fulcrum of the side, his impact on the final – lost 1-0 to Spain – was limited by the injury that forced his substitution early in the second half, yet he had already shown more than enough. His second season at Panathinaikos was more of a struggle as he started just one league game, yet it ended with his first senior international cap – an occasion he marked with a goal – in a friendly against Cyprus and his inclusion in Greece's provisional squad for UEFA EURO 2008.
"I know people are aware of me and are watching my development but I try not to let it affect me," said Ninis, part of the Greece squad that reached the U19 finals again in 2007/08. "I try to ignore the publicity. You can do that, it depends on the person. For me, it doesn't seem to be a problem. It's about your character. More young players are getting the chance to play in the first teams for their clubs, which is important as it helps their development. Young players have to be given that chance – it's crucial. It helps us improve and helps football in general advance in our country. Young players learn from their mistakes and experiences and that's better for the national team as when the call-up comes, we're ready for it."
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