Having won three out of three in a elite-round campaign in which Greece ousted holders France, coach Leonidas Vokolos thinks his side can make an even bigger impact at the finals.
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Leonidas Vokolos has made a big impression in a short time as coach in the Greece youth set-up, leading the Under-17 side to last year's UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals and repeating the feat this season with the U19 squad. The 40-year-old former Greece centre-back spoke to UEFA.com ahead of the tournament in Romania.
UEFA.com: Are you satisfied with Greece's performance in qualifying?
Leonidas Vokolos: Yes. There are obviously still things we need to improve but overall the performance was very good. In the qualifying round in Portugal we had problems as we lost several first-team players to injury, but the boys overcame the hurdles and exceeded my expectations with their determination and discipline.
UEFA.com: Did you expect then to win the elite round group in Slovakia with maximum points?
Vokolos: I wouldn't call it a surprise as I believe in this team a lot. They are very talented and I have been stressing that ever since we began qualifying. In Slovakia, everything went like clockwork. The games were tough, very close, and don't forget that we played against France, the reigning champions. But our victories were all deserved and the fruit of tireless effort until the last minute.
UEFA.com: What would you consider the strong point of your side?
Vokolos: Apart from pure talent, the team stands out for their mental strength. They have individual qualities but are very strong collectively. The team spirit is excellent and they work very well together, which is a rare asset for players of that age and for teams who don't usually stay together for long – they progress from U17s to U19s and then U21s with several changes along the way.
UEFA.com: What is your goal for the finals?
Vokolos: The same as always – to give everything we've got and show our potential, which is considerable. Where that will take us remains to be seen. In football it's hard to predict the outcome of matches, but I am optimistic and I believe my players will make themselves proud.
UEFA.com: What did you learn from last season's U17 finals?
Vokolos: It was special for me because it was my first as a coach. I liked the atmosphere and, above all, the fact the players got a chance to experience a high-profile tournament very early in their careers. That broadens their horizons, gets them acquainted with the business of football – the formalities, the press, the whole procedure. It also gives them a glimpse of what lies ahead if they are disciplined and choose to work hard and improve themselves.
UEFA.com: Presumably the fact young players struggle to get much pitch time in Greece makes your job more difficult?
Vokolos: I can't stress enough how serious this problem is and how much it affects the national squads. The clubs should rely more on the young Greek players, because they'll benefit from it in the long run. There are so many talented players in Greek football and we should make sure they don't waste their time and talent on the bench – they should gain experience from a young age.
UEFA.com: What will you say before your players go out to face the Republic of Ireland in your first game on 20 July?
Vokolos: Go out there and do the best you can to feel good about yourselves afterwards. Enjoy the game and the tournament. Football is not just about the result. Results come through hard work and discipline, but never leave the joy of playing out of the equation.