ANA MAGALHAES / AIPS** in OTROKOVICE —- “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” . . . The famous quote from the classic film Casablanca could be, in a way, used as an introduction to the city of Otrokovice. This quiet, small town of 18,748 habitants on the Morava has the privilege and responsibility of hosting Portugal at UEFA U21 Euro.
What would be the odds of having close contact with some future world football stars in such a remote city?
Portugal work every day at SK Batov 1930, from the fifth Czech division but as professional as possible. Every member of staff constantly checks that all the needs and desires of these special guests are fulfilled.
A big welcome board is a primary sign while the excellent quality of the pitch demonstrates how seriously the club takes the challenge.
The reward for the people of Otrokovice is immense.
A fully opening training day means a break in football practice for two youngsters aged 10 and 12. They play for Batov and cannot decide if they like Chelsea more than Liverpool, since they have replica shirts and shorts of the two English rivals.
However, they agree on one thing: in a few years they want to be like the players see on the pitch, playing and laughing with a football, like any normal kid.
The captain’s name, Sérgio Oliveira, is the first out of their mouths; Bernardo Silva, the magical playmaker, and showstopper goalkeeper José Sá come straight after.
The keeper is a role model for another boy. He says: “I want to be a goalkeeper and I really like José Sá, he is my inspiration.”
He and his older sister quickly name half of the Portuguese squad and even their parents cannot disguise their excitement. They smile and wave at the players, recording the training.
“It’s the first time we have a team like this in here”, says the mother. This typical family admit that they “support Portugal as well as Czech Republic in the Euro.” But the boys are more radical. They say: “We are fans of Czech Republic and Portugal. No, wait, just Portugal!”
It might seem unusual but the connection they possess – as well as all the others who never waste an opportunity to watch Portugal training – is obvious and strong.
Even the first drops of rain of the storm which punished Otrokovice on Monday were not sufficient to make them leave. They want to enjoy every single moment of the exercises ahead of the later contest for who will collect the most pictures and autographs.
Whether the three young candidates for professional football will achieve their dreams is impossible to tell. But, certainly, in a few years, when the some of the best Portuguese players in this tournament are recognised all over the world, they will remember these weeks with pride and know: “I liked them before everyone else did.”
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course at UEFA U21 EURO in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #