While some were optimistic, others were wary of the challenges ahead, but the one thing all four coaches in UEFA Regions' Cup Group B agreed on was that anything can happen over the next eight days in Croatia.
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While some were optimistic, others were wary of the challenges ahead, but the one thing all four coaches in UEFA Regions' Cup Group B agreed on was that anything can happen over the next eight days.
Home from home
Europe's premier amateur tournament kicks off in the picturesque countryside surrounding Zagreb today at 17.30CET and for Slobodan Crnadak, coach of Bosnian representatives Savez Gradiška AMA, the location is a big bonus to his side's chances. "It's going to be good for us to play in Croatia," he said. "It's not been a long trip to get here and we think we'll have Croatian supporters on our side in the group stage."
Savez Gradiška meet Belgium's Kempen AMA in Lucko and Crnadak is quietly confident. "We might be considered underdogs but I think we will have a good tournament," added Crnadak, who turns 45 on Tuesday. He also revealed he had received a good luck message from Miroslav Blažević, who guided Bosnia-Herzegovina to home-and-away victories over Belgium in FIFA World Cup qualifying earlier this year. "He gave me a message to tell the players to go out and play without fear."
Kempen coach Francis Jadoulle said the game against Savez Gradiška was "the most important – if we can win, the team will believe they can reach the final and maybe win it". He will be without three players who helped the side through qualifying, but is pleased with the preparations. "We did some fitness tests and the results are very good. We must be realistic, but we have a good team."
Region I AMA, from the Republic of Ireland, meet Castilla y León AMA in Zapresic and Irish manager Gerry Smith is expecting a stiff opener. "We know what they've done in their group and that's enough to go by," he said. "From what we can gather, they are clear favourites along with the Croatians to go all the way, but anything can happen." Smith took his squad away for friendlies in Portugal and Italy and hopes the warm-weather training will stand his charges in good stead. "It was a good bonding exercise, better than keeping them for a week in Dublin."
Their Spanish opponents have not had the luxury of trips away together, but Castilla y León coach Javier Yepes feels his team can overcome this handicap. "Our preparations have been tough because there are important play-offs back in Spain," he said. "I have had eight players who cannot make it. However, anything is possible – Spanish football is on a high in Europe at the moment and we hope to replicate the professional success at amateur level."