Portugal's impressive start to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship was a long time in the making, according to promising youngster Marcos Lopes.
The core of Portugal's gifted squad finished unbeaten behind Germany in the elite round at U17 level in 2011/12, with one of their two draws coming against the eventual runners-up. Two and a half years on, practically the same group of players are now starting to deliver on their promise. "We've been playing together for three or four years now and it's easier to play with them now as I know them," Marcos Lopes told UEFA.com. "I know their movements, what they like to do on the pitch.
"We've always played well together, but in the last two or three years we didn't win," added the attacking midfielder, whose side's 3-0 victory against Israel on matchday one was their seventh in succession in this season's competition. "
Only now, this year, we've started winning games. This is a very important achievement for our team. We're more ready now than we were before."
Those years spent together have formed them as a unit, a collective intent on succeeding. "Sometimes teams have good individual players, but they're not good as a team," Marcos Lopes explained. "But we can deal with that. We have good individual players and we make a good team."
They underlined that against Israel. "The whole team played well and all the players were focused for the team," he said. "I'm happy that I could help by scoring two goals, but the most important thing is we won the first game. It's a good start for us."
Marcos Lopes enjoyed a similarly promising beginning to his own career, finding himself in excellent company at Manchester City FC. "[Vincent] Kompany is our captain, a very good captain. I was only 16 when I did my first pre-season and he helped me a lot," he said. "He talked to me and tried to make me comfortable so he was, and still is, very important for me."
— Rony Lopes (@Rony10Lopes) July 19, 2014
The Belgian captain was the first to congratulate the Portuguese starlet when he marked his City debut, aged 17, with an FA Cup goal that made him the club's all-time youngest scorer. "After that goal, people saw me with different eyes in England," he told UEFA.com. "They knew my name. It changed my career a little bit and how people look at me at City."
His next move takes him to Ligue 1 and a year's loan at LOSC Lille in 2014/15. "First I'm focused on the national team, but after this, Lille will be my first year as a professional and I will try to play as many games as I can. We're in the Champions League, so it's a good opportunity for me and I hope it will be a very good season."
He leaves behind in Manchester one of his "best friends" Sinan Bytyqi, although he will try to get the better of his Austrian club-mate in the final group game. "We've not talked about how far we can go, but I think we can both go through," Marcos Lopes said. "We've spoken about our first game, though. He's happy too because he scored a penalty."
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