ANKARA – Turkish national footballer Cengiz Ünder says he has been counting down the hours until the opening match of UEFA EURO 2020 on June 11, which he has been looking forward to for the past year and a half.
The Olympic Stadium in Rome, where Turkey will face the hosts Italy, is not unfamiliar to him because he has played there many times in a Roma shirt. “The first European club I joined in my professional career was Roma,” Ünder told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
“I always have a soft spot in my heart for this place. It is a thrilling venue,” the 24-year-old right-winger said, adding, “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time, and I’m extremely excited.”
Expressing his excitement, Ünder said, “I’m counting down the days. I’m eager to experience the happiness of playing for my country and proudly wear the national team jersey. I’m hoping for a good game and for Turkey to demonstrate to the world that we’re a good team.”
The month-long tournament will be played in 11 cities across Europe beginning June 11. The round of 16 matches will be played in London, Amsterdam, Seville, Bucharest, or Glasgow between June 26 and June 29.
The quarterfinals will be played on July 2-3 in Munich, Baku, Saint Petersburg and Rome. The semifinals and the final will be held in London on July 6-7 and July 11, respectively.
“Everyone knows the Turkish National Football Team is strong,” he said, adding, “We’ve beaten strong teams and can beat anyone.”
“We knew it would be challenging when we first talked last year. No one in the team, however, has fear. Let’s see what happens on that day,” Ünder said.
“France came to Konya as world champions in 2019, but we beat them 2-0. We have the strength to beat Italy as well,” he vowed.
“We will go on the field to win the opening match. If we start well, it will go well,” he opined.
“I have faith in my team, and they have faith in me. Everyone, including our manager, has a high level of trust in one another. We are completely prepared for the match. We’ve all been looking forward to this match for the past year and a half,” Ünder said.
BIGGEST DREAM TO PLAY FINAL
Ünder expressed his pride in being a member of the national team, saying, “My most special moments when I scored for the national team. My childhood dream was to play for the national team. I’m proud to be here, and my family is as well.”
According to Ünder, the players have spoken with National Team Manager Senol Gunes about the upcoming game against Italy. “Though Italy is undefeated, the manager has prepared us very well, and we will also give our all in the match,” he said.
“We’ve been playing well since Gunes took over. I’m hoping we can display it against Italy,” he added.
Ünder said the team aimed at securing the final place in the tournament. “We played against strong teams and almost beaten them all. We are strong enough to do it again,” he said optimistically.
Despite the low average age, all the players have played well in both domestic and European tournaments. “I believe we can demonstrate the same performance by reaching the final. Our next target will be the World Cup,” he added.
“Burak, a veteran player, is also among us. It is important to have a well-known player on the side. He backs us up every time in important matches,” he said.
HIS SEASON WITH LEICESTER CITY
Ünder joined Roma from Medipol Basaksehir in 2017. He scored 17 goals in 88 matches for the club. In the following two seasons, he did not get much of a chance to play due to injuries. He was loaned to Leicester City for one season in 2020 and returned to Rome in June 2021.
Recalling being unable to play for about six months for Leicester City, he said, “I didn’t have a good time. When I’m on the field, I always try to give it my all. I performed admirably in all of my matches.”
“It was always my dream to play in the Premier League. I have made it happen with Leicester City. I started the season very well, but things didn’t go the way I wanted,” he said.
Ünder also praised Roma manager Jose Mourinho, saying, “It was a dream come true to play for a team coached by Mourinho.”