A UEFA European U17 Championship winner in 2003, Braga defender Tiago Costa hopes the UEFA Regions' Cup can resurrect his football dreams after injury denied him his big break.
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Once rated as one of Portugal's most promising defenders, injury snuffed out 24-year-old Tiago Costa's dreams of a professional contract with FC Porto at the age of 17, but the 2003 UEFA European Under-17 Championship winner is hoping the UEFA Regions' Cup can help him rekindle his dreams of a footballing career.
With his Braga side within a point of reaching the final of the world's top amateur competition, UEFA.com spoke to Tiago Costa about his past, the present campaign and a future he still believes can be as bright as he once dreamt.
UEFA.com: You have come a long way from winning the U17 title back in 2003 to playing at the UEFA Regions' Cup. How have you changed in those eight years?
Tiago Costa: For starters, I'm much more mature now. When I played in the 2003 European championship I was only 17 and now I'm 24. I'm a complete person now and I have a lot more experience and responsibility. When you are 17 you only want to play and nothing else matters. There is no pressure. I have already won a UEFA trophy but now I only have one thing in mind: helping Braga bring this trophy to Portugal. It would be very good for the country and, of course, for me if we could win the tournament. The last time I had a success like that was in 2003. I miss it.
UEFA.com: What went wrong with your career?
Tiago Costa: I've always say the most crucial moment of a player's career is getting started as a senior. I suffered a serious knee injury in my last year as a junior and as a result my club, FC Porto, decided not to offer me a professional contract. I felt like I was on top of the world then all of a sudden it was like I was endlessly falling. Every door seemed to be closed for me and so I had to start all over again. It was like starting a new career.
UEFA.com: How is it to play in the lower divisions?
Tiago Costa: It is very different and much more complicated. Players are not so tactically disciplined, which means you can always be surprised by what they are going to do. But it is also a great way to improve your game. If you're able to deliver in the fourth or fifth division you are ready to face the world.
UEFA.com: How important is it for you to represent the Braga region in this tournament?
Tiago Costa: It is an honour and a privilege to play in this amazing competition. We are playing in a real European competition and that only underlines the quality of the 20 players who form this team and the coaching staff. We are like a family. I wasn't here for the intermediary round but the guys welcomed me like one of their own. This experience has been really amazing.
UEFA.com: Your team have won two games and received a lot of praise. With so much quality around, how come these players are not playing in higher divisions?
Tiago Costa: I've asked myself that same question and I don't understand it because these players could be playing in the UEFA Europa League. They have the quality to do it. If there's so much talent here why do clubs hire foreign players? It's a mystery to me.
UEFA.com: Could this tournament get your dream of a professional contract back on track?
Tiago Costa: I've always been an ambitious person and, of course, I still think I can reach the first division. I always want more but for now I'm only thinking about winning the Regions' Cup. We have a great chance to win it because we are at home and we can count on our 12th player: our families and friends. They are always there to cheer us on and their presence at the stadiums has made all the difference so far. Let's just hope we can give them the joy they deserve.