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Coaches feel the heat in Group A

"The fun is about to end," said coach Petr Zapletal ominously as Zlín Region geared up to take on sides from Germany and Ukraine along with hosts Braga in Group A.

Group A coaches (left to right) Serhiy Bakun, Dito, Wolfgang Kopp and Petr Zapletal
Group A coaches (left to right) Serhiy Bakun, Dito, Wolfgang Kopp and Petr Zapletal ©Sportsfile

The sun smiles down on the Minho region's Atlantic coast, and while flip flops are almost mandatory for the amateur players gathered for the UEFA Regions' Cup finals, the coaches in Group A know this is not a holiday.

Zlín Region from the Czech Republic are preparing to be thrown to the footballing lions in their opening fixture, with hosts Braga awaiting them at the Estádio 1˚ Maio. There was time for a walk on the beach at the team base in Ofir on Monday morning, but coach Petr Zapletal knows there is serious work afoot. "We are enjoying our stay here but all the fun is about to end," he said. "From now on we mean business."

UEFA's blue riband event for amateur footballers celebrates the joy of playing for love, not money, but it is a deadly serious competition. Braga boss Dito knows about pressure – he was capped 17 times as a central defender for Portugal – and hopes that the occasion will not get the better of his side.

"The expectations for such a tournament like this one are always high and we feel we have a bit of additional responsibility because we are at home," said the one-time SC Braga and SL Benfica man. "Contrary to what people think, I believe playing in front of our fans could be a disadvantage due to the pressure on our players." Nonetheless, he added: "We are here to win the tournament."

Coach of the Württembergischer FV side that were the home team at the 2003 finals, Wolfgang Kopp understands Dito's bind well; his side were eliminated at the group stage in Germany. This time, that particular burden is off his shoulders as his team open their campaign against Ukraine's Yednyst Plysky.

"We are already very happy to be able to be here in Portugal and to have the opportunity to enjoy this amazing weather, especially because it's cold and raining back in Germany," he said with a smile. "Weather aside, we want to do well in the Regions' Cup but above all our main objective is to represent German football well."

With most sides wearing full national-team colours for the finals, that sense of national duty is everywhere, as well as the sheer excitement at teams representing their local area at international level. Yednyst are a case in point; a squad composed of players from in and around a village in northern Ukraine, they have – like all their peers – battled through tough national competitions and continental qualifiers to be here.

Coach Serhiy Bakun was pleased to reflect on how far they had come to get to Portugal, and concluded rapturously: "This is a football feast and I really hope it stays like that until the end. We are already having so much fun here because the weather and the seas are amazing. I wish good luck to all the teams."