Georgia right-back Otar Kakabadze is enjoying the "excellent atmosphere" in Slovenia ahead of their match with France and dreaming of following in the footsteps of his idol.
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One of the undoubted stars in an impressive Georgian opening day performance against Germany was roving right-back Otar Kakabadze, who caught the eye with a blend of defensive solidity and attacking dynamism. He spoke to UEFA.com before Georgia's match against France about the honour of being in Slovenia and his dreams for the future.
UEFA.com: At the start of qualifying, did you think you would be here now?
Otar Kakabadze: In the end it was 'veni, vidi, vici' ['we came, we saw, we conquered']. We hoped, but never thought it was realistic because there were two long rounds of qualifying. But we fought, and every time we played we thought about a win. We realised a dream getting here.
UEFA.com: How have you found the experience, from qualifying to this point?
Kakabadze: It has been an amazing experience. We played in front of a Georgian record crowd of 12,000 people in the elite round in Tbilisi – that incredible atmosphere has inspired us even more to play for our people. Now to be here in Slovenia is a great honour, and it is interesting to play against great teams in a tournament like this one. We feel no real pressure. We feel very good to be here, and the atmosphere is excellent – you really know you are at a European Championship. It is very enjoyable.
UEFA.com: Has it been a difficult journey for you to reach the Georgian team?
Kakabadze: Yes, it has been a difficult journey for me and all the players to get selected for our national team. It is a great honour to represent my country and it is the result of a lot of hard work.
UEFA.com: Do you have a Georgian football idol that you want to emulate?
Kakabadze: David Kipiani is my idol and role model. He was a great midfield playmaker for Dinamo Tbilisi who won the Cup Winners' Cup and was player of the year in the USSR. [The Georgian team interpreter interjects: "Kipiani was an elegant player, and many people think Kakabadze plays in a similar elegant style. He started out as a midfielder, like Kipiani."]
UEFA.com: Do you think one day you could achieve what Kipiani achieved?
Kakabadze: I am always thinking about this. It is my dream. My ambition is to play professional football at the highest level I can, and hopefully represent Georgia's full national team.
UEFA.com: When this tournament is over, what is next for Otar Kakabadze?
Kakabadze: After this? Training, training and still more training! At the moment I play for the Dinamo Tbilisi reserve team, so for now it is just hard work until I can eventually move up.
UEFA.com: Bringing you back to Monday's match, will you attack France like you did Germany?
Kakabadze: It is a very important game for us, like a final. We will play for a win, whether that comes through attacking skill or defensive steel. We will fight.
UEFA.com: You mentioned you had something to say to Georgia's many fans ...
Kakabadze: Today in our country we celebrated St George's day, one of the biggest religious days for our nation. I would like to congratulate our people – and especially my family and friends, who got me here.