The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer

The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer
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Cardiff Bay Warriors won the Somali British Champions League two years ago. (Supplied)
The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer
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Cardiff Bay Warriors won the Somali British Champions League two years ago. (Supplied)
The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer
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Cardiff Bay Warriors won the Somali British Champions League two years ago. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 October 2023
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The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer

The football club giving a Muslim community in Cardiff reasons to cheer
  • Cardiff Bay Warriors were established by Somali sailors and its most recent incarnation is making a name in the Welsh capital

Community. A word that means different things for different people.

And, in the capital of Wales, there is a football club working to change the lives of one predominately Muslim community.

To the south of Cardiff’s center, before the city hits the sea, lies Butetown. Geographically it’s one community, in reality, it’s two: Cardiff Bay and Butetown.

Cardiff Bay has been gentrified, made up of new apartments and manicured gardens, while Butetown has been beaten down, squeezed and neglected. A rail line from the city center physically dissects these two communities.

Before its refurbishment, Cardiff Bay was known as the Docks or Tiger Bay.

A legacy of the docks is the Somali population in the city. Britain’s colonial presence in Somaliland meant Merchant Navy Seamen could work and live in the UK, and there was employment available in the docks, and later in the steel industry.

Many stayed, some had families in Wales, while others brought their families over when civil war broke out in Somalia.

The community is tight-knit, and out of it grew a football team, Cardiff Bay Warriors.

The melting pot of nationalities means Cardiff is home to an eclectic range of eateries, and some very popular Arabic restaurants.

In Hardramowt restaurant, Ahmed Noor, Warriors manager and the glue that holds the team together alongside secretary Ali Abdi, sits down to explain the ethos of the club.

We are also joined by team captain Mohamed Abdulla. He perfectly illustrates the heart of the club by modestly explaining that while he gets offers to play for teams in leagues above the Warriors, he would prefer to play for his community.

Noor stresses the importance of this loyalty.

“Cardiff Bay Warriors emerged from the community,” he said.

“The players live and breathe the community,” the manager added, “from attending primary school, faith classes and sports clubs in the community. The fans are mainly neighbors from the local community and family members.”

The club was first established in 2005, but disbanded after a few years.

Cardiff Bay Warriors returned in 2019, and have played in the Somali British Champions League for the past three years. Two semifinal appearances sit either side of a triumph two years ago.

That win didn’t come easy.

The Warriors won their quarter-final on penalties after a fightback from a 5-3 first-leg deficit, and the final was even more stressful for Noor.

Leicester Atletico were leading 2-1 until a last-minute goal levelled the match to force extra time. The Warriors scored in extra time to take the Champions League.

Last year’s competition witnessed more last-minute heroics when a goal from the captain levelled the match to force extra time. However, this time it was the opponents who found a winner.

The Somali British Champions League has grown in stature in recent times, and last year it had the backing of some famous faces.

“Funnily, Jack Grealish who plays for Manchester City is good friends with some players from the Hilltop team in London. So despite a Manchester team being in the final he gave a shout-out to the London side; I don’t know if he knew who they were playing,” Abdi said.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold also recorded a good-luck video for Hilltop.

“To have those two top-level players take time out of their day to the competition was really nice. We just need (Gareth) Bale or (Aaron) Ramsey this year for us,” he said.

The league allows for three non-Somali players to be playing at any one time. The Warriors have players from Pakistan, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea and Morocco. It is their Islamic faith that brings them together.

“The mosque plays a huge part in the lives of the team as many of the players are practicing Muslims,” Abdi said.

“There are two mosques in Butetown, and one particularly, the Noor El Islam, is one of the oldest mosques in the UK and the oldest masjid in Wales with a rich history and a strong sense of community.”

This year, the Warriors are hopeful for more success in the tournament, but for the first time they will have to balance it with their debut in the Welsh leagues — namely, the Highadmit Projects South Wales Alliance Football League.

In Wales, a separate league pyramid system exists from the English one. While Welsh clubs Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County, Wrexham and Merthyr Tydfil play in the English divisions, all other teams in Wales play in the Cymru leagues (Cymru is the Welsh name for Wales).

The Warriors have a long way to go to reach the Cymru Premier, but that is their goal. They’ve started at the bottom but they are determined to make their way to the top. The top teams in the Cymru Premier League can play in the UEFA Champions League proper.

That will take time and money. The Warriors are fortunate to have access to a pitch that meets the standards of a club in the Cymru Premier League, a gantry for TV crews and seating for fans.

“The aspiration of the Warriors is to reach the pinnacle of the Welsh League and have a developed youth system with qualified coaches and a women and girls’ set-up too,” Noor said.

“We know all this takes time and investment; it won’t happen overnight so we take each year as it comes and hope to do better than the last year,” he said. “As a club we are open to new ideas and volunteers who can contribute to our vision, and whether from the community or not we welcome anyone that is willing to work with us to get to where we deserve to be.

“It’s no secret we have talented players in abundance in our Butetown and South Cardiff communities, and as much as we would like players to stay with us and help us on our journey, we won’t stand in the way of any player that attracts interest from teams in leagues above us.”

With proper funding, there is a belief that the Warriors could help to unearth a local Muslim player from the community who could go on to play for a top club, and ultimately the Welsh national team.

“Watching Muslim players in the Premier League, such as (Mohamed) Salah, has definitely inspired our younger generation into believing they too can follow in their footsteps, especially as the players hold on to their faith and actively practice it, whether it’s during Ramadan and they have a break during the game to break their fast or during celebrations where many Muslim players celebrate by prostrating and thanking god for their success,” Abdi said.

It is the Warriors’ abiding love for the community that is behind the club’s desire to help Cardiff City to find a real local player.

The Warriors have forged a strong bond with their local club. When they won the Champions League, they approached Cardiff City Foundation.

“When we brought the trophy back to Cardiff I put in a call to Cardiff City Foundation and said, ‘Look you’ve following us on social (media) do you want to meet the boys that have brought home the Champions League?’” Abdi said.

“The boys were paraded on the pitch at half-time, they were in the match-day magazine, and on pitch-side they were able to walk around with the crowd clapping and cheering; some young fans wanted photos with the boys.”

It can be said that Cardiff has not tapped into certain communities, so this is where Abdi and the club’s foundation have taken matters into their own hands.

“Through our relationship with the Cardiff City Foundation, we hosted a talent ID day in the community,” he said.

“The academy said that if we identify players in the under-10s they’ll bring in the coaches, put them through a series of drills and if there are any pathways available we’ll signpost them in the right direction.

“To everyone’s delight, that afternoon five were told to return to a future development camp, and one out of them has now signed for the academy.”

In another example of the club’s heart, Mohamed Abdulla and others take turns in mentoring the young player and supporting him with his development in their own time.

“He’s now played games in Liverpool, Manchester and Chelsea, and the boys go and watch him and support him,” Abdi said.

Normally, if a football team is on a filmset, it is at the end of a successful journey, when their story is ready to be told to the world.

But when Cardiff Bay Warriors ventured into Wolf Studios Wales recently it was to celebrate a new start, with a new partnership.

The studios, which are based in Cardiff Bay, have been used to film TV shows such as “A Discovery of Witches” and “His Dark Materials,” and most recently, “Doctor Who.”

The Warriors have forged a partnership with Screen Alliance Wales, who had wanted to reach out to the local community and found the Somali team to be the perfect vehicle to do that.

On the night, Abdulla said that talent in Butetown often goes unnoticed and hopes this partnership will make a difference.

“I am hoping that the community can take advantage of the opportunities presented by the TV industry and that our link with Screen Alliance Wales is able to be the spark that makes this happen,” he said.

And there’s that word again; community. With the Warriors, it’s always there, at the heart of everything the club stands for.


Lionel Messi and Argentina will try for a 3rd straight major title in Copa America

Lionel Messi and Argentina will try for a 3rd straight major title in Copa America
Updated 39 sec ago
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Lionel Messi and Argentina will try for a 3rd straight major title in Copa America

Lionel Messi and Argentina will try for a 3rd straight major title in Copa America
  • Argentina and Uruguay are tied with 15 Copa titles each, followed by Brazil with nine
  • Spain is the only nation to win three consecutive major titles: The European Championship in 2008 and 2012 around the 2010 World Cup

NEW YORK: Lionel Messi and Argentina will try to match Spain’s feat of three consecutive major titles when the Copa America kicks off Thursday night.

Coming off championships in the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup, Messi will be four days shy of his 37th birthday when the Albiceleste take the field against Canada at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“I want to enjoy a couple of more matches being a world champion,” Messi said after Argentina beat France on penalty kicks to win the 2022 World Cup final.

He has 10 goals in 10 international appearances since, raising his total to 108 in 182 games for Argentina’s national team. He is either tied for second with Ali Daei or one behind, depending on whether a disputed goal by the Iranian is counted, trailing only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo at 128.

“It is not easy to compete again after winning it all,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.

Argentina and Uruguay are tied with 15 Copa titles each, followed by Brazil with nine. No other nation has won more than two.

Brazil features an attack headed by Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, just off a Champions League title with Real Madrid, and Raphinha. The emerging star is 17-year-old Endrick, who joins Real Madrid this summer.

“If you look at every position in their proposed starting 11, it’s probably one of the world’s best players,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said.

Spain is the only nation to win three consecutive major titles: The European Championship in 2008 and 2012 around the 2010 World Cup.

A look at the tournament:

Expanded field

There will be 16 teams, just as in 2016. The US, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica join the 10 South American nations after qualifying from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Back in the US

Ecuador was to host the tournament under the rotation of CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body, but declined. The tournament was then moved to the US, which also hosted the special centennial Copa America in 2016 as Chile won on penalty kicks over Argentina at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Eleven NFL stadiums are being used, including eight of the 11 US venues for the 2026 World Cup, plus three smaller MLS homes. The final will be at Miami Gardens, Florida, on July 14, starting five hours after the European Championship final in Berlin.

CONMEBOL says more than 1 million tickets have been sold for the 32 matches. The 2016 tournament drew just under 1.5 million, and the 2019 tournament in Brazil about 850,000. The 2021 Copa was played mostly without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

US team

This will be the biggest test for the US team before the World Cup — the Americans get an automatic berth as co-host along with Mexico and Canada — and most Europe-based players are expected to skip next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are the core of a team that returns 18 players from the 2022 World Cup roster.

“A World Cup on home soil is the biggest thing that you know we’ll probably do in our career,” Pulisic said. “It’s a special time for this sport in America.”

World Cup test?

In 2016, CONMEBOL partnered with the US Soccer Federation, which was in charge of most of the logistics. This time, CONMEBOL is co-organizing the tournament with CONCACAF, the governing body of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Unlike during the World Cup, the organizers have only short-term access to venues. At Hard Rock, a concert is scheduled for July 6, between the last group stage game and the final, and a new grass surface will be installed.

At MetLife Stadium, where a semifinal will be played July 9, staff will look at it as a preview for the World Cup final on July 19, 2026. The stadium has a camera system designed by Arecont Vision and managed by Genetec Security Center that was installed before the 2014 Super Bowl and a new system by Axis Communications is being put in place this summer in the seating bowl with 80 8K, 41-megapixel cameras.

“We can see every seat all the time. I think it serves as a good deterrent,” said Daniel DeLorenzi, vice president of security and safety services. “We have three drone detection systems. ... Not only can we track the drone, but more importantly, we can track where the operator is.”


Mbappé’s facial injury places doubt on his continued involvement in Euro 2024

Mbappé’s facial injury places doubt on his continued involvement in Euro 2024
Updated 18 June 2024
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Mbappé’s facial injury places doubt on his continued involvement in Euro 2024

Mbappé’s facial injury places doubt on his continued involvement in Euro 2024
  • Deschamps: “The French team with Kylian would always be stronger”

DUSSELDORF, Germany: Kylian Mbappé’s facial injury in France’s 1-0 win against Austria on Monday has put in doubt whether he will continue at the European Championship.
An aerial head-on-shoulder collision with Austria’s Kevin Danso left Mbappé curled on the field with his nose bloodied and swollen late in the Group D game at Dusseldorf Arena.
“I don’t have the elements in my hands,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “He didn’t get off lightly. It is still to be seen. I cannot at this stage give the answer (if he will be ruled out).”
Mbappé’s obvious pain following the collision prompted Austria goalkeeper Patrick Pentz to signal for urgent medical assistance.
“He’s not doing well. He’s with the medical staff. His nose got badly hit that’s for sure,” Deschamps said. “We need to check, but it seems quite complicated, which is really unfortunate for us tonight.”
Mbappé’s injury likely struck fear in the hearts of France fans.
He is France’s talisman and widely considered the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world. Also, he will finally wear the famous white jersey of Real Madrid next season after joining as a free agent from Paris Saint-Germain.
Mbappé tried to play on against Austria, but quickly fell to the ground again, holding his face and prompting whistles and jeers from opposition fans, who seemed to believe he was time-wasting as France held on for the win.
He was then booked by referee Jesus Gil Manzano and replaced by Olivier Giroud.
“We’re worried to see Kylian leave the field like that,” France midfielder N’Golo Kante said. “We still don’t know what the situation is. ... We hope that it’s not too severe and that he’s back with us for the rest of the competition.”
Mbappé produced a mixed performance before the injury but still showed his importance to France’s hopes of winning a record-equalling third European Championship and its first since 2000.
It was his moment of inspiration that led to Maximilian Wober scoring an own goal in the 38th minute that handed Deschamps his 100th win as national team coach.
With a flash of close-ball control, Mbappé beat Phillipp Mwene in the box and crossed in search of a teammate. In Wober’s desperation to cut out the danger, he inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net.
Mbappé was then guilty of a remarkable miss 10 minutes into the second half when failing to hit the target from close range with only the keeper to beat.
Bursting through on goal, he was too fast for Wober and had time to steady himself in the box before picking his spot. With France fans behind the goal just waiting for the net to bulge, Mbappe’s shot instead curled past the post to the relief of the Austrians.
He has yet to score in the European Championship, having failed to at the last Euros three years ago.
Deschamps, however, does not want to consider worst case scenarios.
“I’m not going to go into hypothesis,” he said. “The French team with Kylian would always be stronger. If the news doesn’t go along these lines then we’ll have to fight without him, but Kylian is Kylian and any team with him in the squad is obviously a lot stronger.”


Blind footballer brings game to visually impaired Iraqis

Members of Iraq's first national football team for the visually impaired, train at a sports club in Baghdad on May 22, 2024.
Members of Iraq's first national football team for the visually impaired, train at a sports club in Baghdad on May 22, 2024.
Updated 18 June 2024
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Blind footballer brings game to visually impaired Iraqis

Members of Iraq's first national football team for the visually impaired, train at a sports club in Baghdad on May 22, 2024.
  • The new Iraqi team for the visually impaired — though unofficial — was born in 2018. Kinani, from Karbala in central Iraq, shelved all other sports practice to manage the team and secure formal recognition

BAGHDAD: When football fanatic Othman Al-Kinani became blind in 2008, the loss of his sight hit him hard, not least because he thought he’d have to hang up his boots for good.
Now aged 51, Kinani described his struggle to rebuild his life. “I even forgot how to walk,” he told AFP.
“I had to rely on my hearing for everything,” he explained, after losing his sight to glaucoma, itself according to him the result of using incorrect medicines to treat allergies.
What made the situation worse “was being separated from football,” the Arabic language teacher added.
But years later Kinani’s persistence has led him to set up the country’s first national football team for the visually impaired.
“It became my life,” Kinani said at a training session in Baghdad as he described how the five-a-side sport — the format most popular with visually impaired football players — had reignited his passion.
Kinani returned to ball sports playing goalball, a game designed for disabled athletes, through a local NGO he helped create for the visually impaired in 2016.
But goalball, in which players shoot a ball from a prone position across a court, served only to whet his appetite for a return to football.
The new Iraqi team for the visually impaired — though unofficial — was born in 2018. Kinani, from Karbala in central Iraq, shelved all other sports practice to manage the team and secure formal recognition.
He said the process brought him out of his isolation and the sport allowed his “reintegration among friends.”
With the help of his daughter, who would write his emails, Kinani gained important support from the International Blind Football Foundation (IBF). In 2022 the Tokyo-based body agreed to send crucial equipment to the Iraqi team.
The official recognition Kinani sought finally came this year and Iraq’s 20-member squad is now preparing for a tournament in Morocco later this month.
To attend training in Baghdad, half of the team, which hails from other provinces, travels to the capital three times a week.
Blind football matches consist of two 20-minute halves, played on a 40-meter by 20-meter field.
So partially sighted players don’t gain an unfair advantage, all the players wear eye shades so that none can see anything as they follow the sound of the ball, which contains bells.
Only the goalkeepers are allowed to see and guides on the sidelines shout instructions to help the players find the way to the goal.

During the training session in Baghdad, as one player came within reach of the goal, a guide urgently called on him to “take three steps and shoot.”
But the game came to a sudden halt when a vendor selling water bottles arrived with blaring loudspeakers to promote his wares, leaving players unable to hear the sound of the ball or their guides’ instructions.
Though the sport is still in its infancy, the Iraqi Blind Football Federation hopes to expand the sport nationwide through additional teams.
Tarek Al-Mulla, the head of the federation, praises the “extraordinary abilities” of the players, despite the “difficulties” they face.
“Dribbling with a ball, mind and muscle coordination, these players distinguish themselves (by doing this) only through hearing,” he said.
Ali Abbas, head coach for the national team, said he hoped the squad would keep improving, one game at a time.
“The players are full of determination, which encourages me,” he said.
Iraq’s Paralympic committee is still waiting for parliamentary approval of the team’s funding, which would allow every player to receive a monthly salary of $230.
In the meantime 10 players will pay for their own travel expenses and accommodation for the upcoming competition in Morocco.
As he took a breather from training in Baghdad, captain, Haidar Al-Basir, 36, spoke of his team’s commitment to do their best, despite the obstacles.
But he explained that, beyond fear of injury, his greatest concern and his request to authorities is for transport to training.
“I had to remember the route to go from home to the stadium. There is also the lack of adequate transport,” he said.
But “we are here to train and to learn, to challenge and overcome obstacles,” he added.
 

 


France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener

France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener
Updated 18 June 2024
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France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener

France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener
  • France and the Netherlands meet next in Leipzig on Friday, while Austria face Poland earlier the same day in Berlin

DÜSSELDORF, Germany: Maximilian Woeber’s own goal was enough to give France a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign on Monday as they edged Austria 1-0 in their opening game but Kylian Mbappe came off late on with a bloodied nose.
Woeber diverted Mbappe’s cutback into his own net seven minutes before half-time in Duesseldorf to allow the French, one of the leading contenders to win the tournament, to come through a stiff test.
Austria have been much-improved under Ralf Rangnick and their pressing game often made life uncomfortable for the 2022 World Cup runners-up, who saw Mbappe leave the field near the end after being hurt in a collision.
He had earlier failed to convert a glorious chance that would have allowed France to win by a wider margin.
While Les Bleus were not at their best, they will be relieved to have emerged victorious from the game after a build-up overshadowed by talk of politics rather than football.
Mbappe and other French players had spent much of their time before the media in recent days answering questions about upcoming elections in the country which could see the far-right National Rally become the biggest party.
Any slip-up here would have led to suggestions their minds had not been fully focused on the competition, as France aim to become European champions for the third time, and first since 2000.
Instead, the result leaves Didier Deschamps’ team level on three points in Group D with the Netherlands, who defeated Poland 2-1 in Hamburg on Sunday.
France and the Netherlands meet next in Leipzig on Friday, while Austria face Poland earlier the same day in Berlin.
Austria had enjoyed some impressive results coming into the tournament on a seven-game unbeaten run and their team is on familiar ground during these Euros — their coach Rangnick is from Germany and eight of their starting line-up played in the German Bundesliga last season.

The French, however, are arguably the most talented team at the tournament, led by their captain Mbappe.
He endured a miserable time at his only previous Euros three years ago, failing to score and missing the decisive penalty in a shoot-out defeat by Switzerland in the last 16.
The new Real Madrid signing will wonder how he did not score in this game, with his first big opportunity arriving inside eight minutes.
Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez combined to release Mbappe, who cut in from the left as he loves to do and shaped to curl a shot into the far corner before instead aiming for the near post.
However, Austria goalkeeper Patrick Pentz was able to make the save.
The Austrians settled into the contest and passed up a wonderful chance of their own to go ahead on 36 minutes.
Skipper Marcel Sabitzer touched down a Michael Gregoritsch cross from the left for Christoph Baumgartner, but he was foiled by goalkeeper Mike Maignan.
That proved crucial as France went ahead two minutes later.
Ousmane Dembele gave the ball to Mbappe on the right, and he produced a stepover to get to the byline before his cutback was nodded into the far corner of his own net by the unfortunate Woeber.
Mbappe was then thwarted by Pentz as he tried to go around the goalkeeper in first-half stoppage time, but that was nothing compared to the chance he squandered 10 minutes after the restart.
Adrien Rabiot sent Mbappe away, bounding in behind the Austrian defense, but he somehow put his shot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
That left the game in the balance, and Austria continued to push for a leveller, but without success.
Their fans were less than impressed by what they perceived as timewasting late on from Mbappe, who needed treatment after colliding with Kevin Danso in the box.
He left the pitch with his shirt stained by blood, only to then come back on and sit down, earning himself a yellow card before being replaced by Olivier Giroud.


Turkiye to ‘honor’ massive Euro 2024 support, says Montella

Turkiye to ‘honor’ massive Euro 2024 support, says Montella
Updated 17 June 2024
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Turkiye to ‘honor’ massive Euro 2024 support, says Montella

Turkiye to ‘honor’ massive Euro 2024 support, says Montella
  • Turkiye’s Group F fixtures will effectively be home matches due to the huge numbers of Turkish fans living in Germany

DORTMUND, Germany: Vincenzo Montella said Monday that his Turkiye players will try to “honor” the huge support set to roar them on during Euro 2024, ahead of their opener with debutants Georgia.
Turkiye’s Group F fixtures will effectively be home matches due to the huge numbers of Turkish fans living in Germany, and those supporters will create a feverish atmosphere during Tuesday’s clash in Dortmund.
Montella got a taste of the kind of support his team can expect during a 3-2 friendly win over Germany in Berlin in November, their first away success against the Germans since 1951.
“We’ve already experienced this support having played in Germany. It’s a big responsibility for us. We don’t want to disappoint the Turkish people here nor the ones back home so we’ll honor the flag right to the end,” Montella told reporters.
“We hadn’t won in Germany for 72 years, we hadn’t ever won away against Croatia (before beating them in qualifying) and we managed to do it, so it’s the year of firsts.”
It will be a doubly special occasion for Salih Ozcan, who plays his club football for Borussia Dortmund and will be playing on familiar turf at the Westfalenstadion.
“It will be like a home match for is, we need to use that support to our advantage,” said Ozcan.
“It will be a particular experience for me to play in this stadium. I hope that it will be red and white on Tuesday, it’ll be a great match that we want to win.”
Turkiye will also face Portugal and the Czech Republic in Group F.