UEFA.com works better on other browsers
For the best possible experience, we recommend using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

Junior Senior with Switzerland's Riola Xhemaili and Ana-Maria Crnogorčević

Two players with vastly different levels of experience reflect on their journeys and what is to come at UEFA Women's EURO 2022.

Ana-Maria Crnogorčević and Riola Xhemaili
Ana-Maria Crnogorčević and Riola Xhemaili UEFA

Midfielder Riola Xhemaili is just 19 and is preparing for her senior international tournament debut. She has so far spent her club career in Switzerland, having come through the youth ranks at FC Basel, she joined SC Freiburg at the beginning of last season.

In contrast, 31-year-old forward Ana-Maria Crnogorčević has spent the majority of her club career in Frankfurt, Portland and since 2019, Barcelona. She is a two-time UEFA Women's Champions League winner with more than 130 international caps to her name since her debut in 2009.

The pair discuss their early days in the game and exchange thoughts and advice on life at the top of the game.

Xhemaili is set for her first international tournament
Xhemaili is set for her first international tournament

Firstly, when did you start playing football?

Xhemaili: I started really late when I was 11 years old. Before that, I had been playing volleyball but my parents have always been very enthusiastic about football - my uncle played for Grasshopper Club Zürich and for the Yugoslavian national team. So after that, I somehow ended up getting into football either through my brother or father.

Crnogorčević: I started late too. I was 10 years old when I joined a club, and before that I had been playing tennis and had also been learning karate. I wasn’t really able to play football, because of my father, but I always went to have a kick about with the other children. My mother registered me in secret and I had to hide the fact that I was playing football for three weeks.

Xhemaili: From your father? How did he react?

Crnogorčević: Yes - he saw the sports bag with my boots and asked, ‘What is this?'. My mother and I were like, ‘I’m going to play football!’. He accepted it, it was great, and he was proud.

Which players did you look up to?

Crnogorčević: I was always a FC Bayern München fan, so my first role model was Giovane Élber, the Brazilian striker. Later on, obviously, Lionel Messi for me is amazing and Zinedine Zidane was incredible too. In terms of women’s players, Mia Hamm and Birgit Prinz were the big ones in my time but personally, my role model was Lara Dickenmann when she was here in Switzerland. I once played against her in a friendly game when I was a teenager – I chose to play in this friendly game instead of another youth tournament because I really wanted to play against Lara, and it was worth it!

 Giovane Elber celebrates a Champions League semi-final goal
Giovane Elber celebrates a Champions League semi-final goalGetty Images

Xhemaili: For me, it is very easy. It has always been Cristiano Ronaldo and then when I started to find out more about women’s football, it became Ramona Bachmann. Then, when she was signing autographs when I was 13 or 14, I took a photo with her and her head only came up to my shoulder!

Find women's football opportunities where you are

Ana-Maria, can you tell Riola how it feels to win big titles?

Crnogorčević: Haven't you already won something?

Xhemaili: Not yet.

Crnogorčević: It will come, don’t worry. I got the opportunity to play in the UEFA Women's Champions League final on two occasions and, of course, that is a big title. It is the title everyone wants to win at the club level and it has grown a lot, including the fanbase. It is really something truly beautiful and it can get you addicted. Once you’ve experienced that great feeling for the first time, you want to feel it again. It’s indescribable and I wish that everyone could have the opportunity to win that title.

Xhemaili: Which title was better, the first or the second?

Crnogorčević: The first one. The first Champions League title was better because the first one is always special. Mandy Islacker scored in the 92nd minute to make it 2-1 against Paris Saint-Germain - our friends and family, everyone was in the stadium. Last year in Gothenburg it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not have our friends, family or anybody in the stadium so it was a bit weird. I don't want to make it seem like a small thing, but there is a difference when you win 4-0 or 2-1 with a last-minute winner. The emotion is greater. As I already mentioned, the first title is always more special and more beautiful.

Riola, is there any advice you would seek from experienced players like Ana-Maria?

Xhemaili: I have had this one question on my mind for a week now. How does the night before your first game in the EURO feel?

 Crnogorčević oin action at Women's EURO 2017
Crnogorčević oin action at Women's EURO 2017SPORTSFILE

Crnogorčević: The first night is a little special. I have to think back a bit to 2017, but we had been together for two weeks and were about to be for two more. You are together for four or five weeks and having trained a lot, the big day is finally here. Thinking about my last experience, I would say, you will be laying in your bed thinking about what you have done over the past four weeks. Sometimes you’ll be questioning, ‘Have I done enough? Have I done everything that I can?’. I think it is normal to question whether you have given it all and then, you can consider what you have done and tell yourself, ‘Yes, I did it! Tomorrow the EURO will finally begin.’ All the hard work and exhausting training sessions will be worth it. There is always some excitement about the fact that it is finally starting, combined with some nerves, but that is completely normal.

Ana-Maria, how do you think Women's EURO 2022 will be different from 2017?

Crnogorčević: The last EURO was five years ago, and I think the level of the women’s game has increased significantly for all teams, both in terms of individual quality and collectively. Furthermore, you see a lot more women’s football on TV, and you can also watch the Champions League games on YouTube. It will be a huge event and England is definitely a football country and has amazing stadiums, great teams and awesome players. So, this EURO will be a step up from the previous one.

Developing women's football in Switzerland