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Tsoukalas plays with the U17 Greece national team at the European Tournament (UEFA)

Tsoukalas photo CHS Junior Toni Tsoukalas has been playing soccer since she was four years old! Toni’s parents are Greek, and she herself has Greek citizenship and speaks Greek. As a result of a coach of the Greek National Team watching videos of her playing soccer, Toni had been invited to soccer camps in Greece over the last few years. Including this last trip, Toni has been to Greece five times.

This year she was invited again to join the U17 Greek National Soccer Team to play in the UEFA (European Championships) qualifying round. The tournament took place in Greece (the host nation) of Group 9. This group included 4 teams: Greece, Northern Ireland, Kazakhstan and Switzerland. Toni was the only player on her team not from Greece! The tournament took place in Northwest Greece in a town called Ioannina. We are proud to share Toni’s amazing story – told below in her own words.

‘We arrived in Athens, Greece on October 9 a few days prior to the first game in order to meet with the team and travel together (about 4 hours away from Athens). When we arrived in Ioannina and got settled in the hotel we had a few practices and meetings to set the strategy and make sure we were ready to play.

The girls on my team were really nice fun girls who also have a passion for the game. Even though I live in another country I was immediately made to feel a part of the team. We met the entire coaching and medical staff (there was one new person from my trip back in May so I knew everyone).

The equipment manager (George) gave everyone their gear, uniforms and shoes. We had always had to dress with the gear that was given to us. My assigned number was 3. I think our game gear was probably the nicest I had ever seen. It made me very proud to wear it. I knew it made my entire family very proud to see me wearing it. As the time came to get ready for our first game on October 12 I was getting very excited to play but also nervous. I play center back and knew that my team was counting on me in many ways. 

Our first match was on October 12 and we played vs. Northern Ireland. It was at a stadium in the middle of the city of Ioannina called Zosimades named after Greek brothers who were merchants that founded many schools and other charities in the city. Some of the local high schools came to watch along with some of my family. My mom, both my grandfathers, one of my grandmothers, my aunt and uncle and two of my cousins were there. It was great to have them there to support me. 

We won 3-1 and I had an assist. One of the girls on the N. Ireland team was Breckyn Monteith who also plays for CSA and we have been on the same team before. It was fun to see her there and play against her.

The next two days we had off with one practice per day. On one of those days we took a tour of the old city of Ioannina which has a lot of history. Mainly because it is a very old city dating back 20,000 years ago. It was conquered by the Romans and the Ottoman Empire. We visited the old house of Ali Pasha who was an Ottoman Albanian ruler back near 1820. 

Our second game was vs Kazakhstan on October 15. We won 7-1. Since we now had 2 wins and zero losses we were already through to the elite round. Our third game was vs Switzerland (the tourney favorite) and if we wanted to win top seed of the group we had to either tie or win. Switzerland and Northern Ireland tied 1-1 so we were the only undefeated team.

During our two day break between matches we took another tour with my team to learn about all the different herbs, spices and specialties of the region. They are known for the saffron spice as well as homemade cheeses and wine. The weather was very good so it was nice to walk around the old town with the old castle in the center by the lake.

The last game vs. Switzerland was on October 18. It was played in a stadium near a mountain. Many of the local schools came to watch. 

I was very nervous before and during the game. In the first half we scored a nice goal to make it 1-0. We went into halftime 1-0. I thought I was going to throw up during halftime. I have never felt that kind of excitement and fear all at the same time. It was an emotional roller coaster!

We all really wanted to win. Greece had never finished at the top of their bracket before. Switzerland scored a goal and made it 1-1 in the second.

A tie would have still put us in first position but at the 90th-plus minute, we scored another goal from a corner kick. The crowd went crazy. Everyone was celebrating like they had just won the World Cup. The whistle blew right after and the game ended.

We were all celebrating and chanting. I was so excited. I have to say I was very happy and proud of my team. And relieved! We were through to the Elite round. We will meet again in March 2019 to play the top teams of Europe. We will know on November 23 which teams we will face and where it will be. Some of the best teams are: England, Germany, Spain, France, and Holland. We are the underdogs but one thing this trip taught is that as a team you can accomplish anything. I had the time of my life. I will never forget this experience.’

 

 

Posted October 26, 2018