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Karagounis on Greece's Under-19 honour

Part of Greece's UEFA EURO 2004-winning side and now Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) director of national teams, Giorgos Karagounis discusses the finals.

Georgios Karagounis celebrates against Portugal at UEFA EURO 2004
Georgios Karagounis celebrates against Portugal at UEFA EURO 2004 ©Getty Images

Karagounis on ... what the Under-19 finals mean for Greece
It is very important for Greece to host such an event. It is also a treat for the local fans to watch the Greece U19 team and at the same time enjoy the stars of tomorrow. These players will dominate the European scene in the next decade, both in club and international football. Youth encounters are usually fast-paced, spectacular. I have been through all age groups of the national sides and such matches are very exciting.

Karagounis on ... his first time in the national team
It was a great feeling. We had travelled to Poland to participate in a tournament. It was my first trip abroad, everything was new to me. The fact that I scored twice on my debut made it all the more exciting.

Karagounis on ... finishing third in the 1995 UEFA European Under-18 Championship and second in the 1998 U21s
The experiences you gather are many, intense and cannot be found elsewhere, not in club football at that age. You get to face the best players in Europe, participate in important encounters and gather overwhelming experience on all levels. You come up against the best of each age group in each country, you measure yourself against them. These matches are held on beautiful grounds and the whole build-up towards the game helps a player grow. 

Doing so well in the U21 finals of 1998 and the U18 tournament of 1995 helped us a lot in Portugal [at UEFA EURO 2004]. Many of the players we faced in these youth tournaments were at EURO 2004 as well. That gave us a confidence boost, as we knew the opposition. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain by facing them again. We had done well in our junior years, why not as seniors? We knew we had a good, solid team and that knowledge was important in our effort to do the best we could.

Giorgos Karagounis (left) at the draw with UEFA's Jim Boyce
Giorgos Karagounis (left) at the draw with UEFA's Jim Boyce©Vasilis Ververidis

Karagounis on ... what it takes for a young player to make the grade
They have to work very hard and enjoy playing for their national side. They must be ambitious and make an effort to bring their A game from the youth sides to the seniors as well. They must be aware that the degree of difficulty rises when they move to senior football. They might be regulars, even captains, of the U21 side and then move to the seniors and find it hard to establish themselves. It happens, but they should not feel discouraged. They need to insist, persist, never give up and always work harder.

Karagounis on ... Greece's squad
They are working well and hopefully they will be ready. They know how important it is to participate in the European Championship, let alone in front of their own crowd. That serves as extra motivation for them.

Karagounis on ... Greece's prospects
Our motto is to take it one game at a time. We never set out to win a tournament. Our goal is to win each game. In such short tournaments, you keep your eyes on the ball hoping for successful results. In 2012 Greece made it to the final, but each time it's different. The motivation of playing in front of our crowd is huge, but the rivals are very strong. We will go after each game and hopefully we will do as well as in 2012, or even better.

Karagounis on ... his objectives as director of national teams
Our concern is to provide the players with the best possible infrastructure so they can work well and grow. Our main aim is to build a training centre; we don't have one right now and unfortunately youth football suffers for it. If we achieve that, youth teams will train better. These lads are the future. We can't expect the best of them if we don't offer them the best.

Greece reached the U19 final in 2012
Greece reached the U19 final in 2012©Sportsfile

Karagounis on ... Under-19 focus 
At this age, players mostly work on ball skills, slowly getting into tactics, while also improving their physical condition. It's a crucial age and they need to work hard and become consummate professionals. Their commitments grow with each passing year, they have more matches to negotiate and they have to get ready to assume senior responsibilities, both at club and international level, when given the opportunity.

Karagounis on ... his advice to the 2015 Greece squad
They should regard their participation as a dream come true. It is a big honour to represent their country. And they should always keep in mind that, no matter how overwhelming their individual qualities are, they will never achieve anything on their own, but only as a team, all of them together. They have to learn teamwork on and off the pitch, be like a family, enjoy their time together and look forward to the tournament.