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Despite exiting the 2013 UEFA European Under-19 Championship at the group stage, Turkey goalkeeper Onurcan Piri said he was thrilled to have gained some "big tournament" experience in Lithuania.
After qualifying for the finals with a 100% elite round record, successive defeats against Serbia and France meant Okan Buruk's side's hopes of a semi-final spot had disappeared before Friday's final Group B meeting with Georgia in Marijampole. Nevertheless, the 2004 runners-up rallied to end the competition on a high with a 4-2 win, during which Onurcan saved a 28th-minute penalty from Nika Katcharava.
"Things could have been even worse for us had we not conceded [Avto Endeladze's third-minute] opening goal," the 18-year-old said. "When that went in, the team started to play better and we managed to respond quickly. Our self-confidence was then restored when we equalised."
Okan Deniz's first-half double turned the match around and further strikes from Recep Niyaz and Cenk Şahin finally finished off an obdurate Georgia team – reduced to ten men following Davit Mtivlishvili's dismissal – who had briefly been level when Katcharava equalised in the 50th minute.
"When the draw for the finals was made, I knew that France and Serbia were quality teams but I was wary of Georgia as they were an unknown quantity to us," Onurcan explained. "We had neither played against them nor seen them playing. In the end, they came through England's group in the elite round and that performance turned out to be no fluke."
Describing the atmosphere within the Turkey squad after their first two losses as "negative," the Giresunspor goalkeeper said things had turned for the better with Friday's victory which left Okan Buruk's charges third in the final standings. "We were unhappy due the two defeats we suffered in the first two matches," he said. "We have very good players in our side, however, and they started to play really good football in the end. We put the things back on track."
Although it is Serbia and France who advance to a place in the semi-finals, the memories Onurcan gained over his time in Lithuania made up for a lack of playing time with Turkey at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil. "I think that just taking part in such a big tournament is an experience," he explained. "It's the first time I actually played in such a competition. I was a member of our U20 World Cup squad but didn't play. There's a significant difference between playing and not playing at these events, which I now realise."
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