Yani Urdinov controls the ball in front of Guillaume Gillet during Ekranas' match against Anderlecht in the Champions League 3rd qualifying round; photo: GETTY IMAGES

Interview with Yani Urdinov

Yani Urdinov controls the ball in front of Guillaume Gillet during Ekranas' match against Anderlecht in the Champions League 3rd qualifying round; photo: GETTY IMAGESYani Urdinov talks about his career, the upcoming friendly against Lithuania (where he plays his club football) and the World Cup qualifications matchup against Belgium, his country of birth.

The 21-year-old left back Yani Urdinov is a very interesting player who has experienced good success over the past couple of months by becoming a regular on the Macedonian national team while also turning into a valuable player for his club team.  Yani plays with the defending Lithuanian champion Ekranas, and he also finds himself in the Macedonian squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Lithuania.  Despite Urdinov representing Macedonia internationally, he was actually born and raised in Belgium, another national team that Macedonia will face in the qualifications for the 2014 World Cup.

Yani was formerly a regular for the U21 national team and made his senior national team debut under manager John Toshack in the May friendlies against Portugal and Angola.  Urdinov seems to have overtaken Aleksandar Lazevski as the second choice LB behind Goran Popov of Dynamo Kyiv.  However, Popov missed the past couple of matches for Macedonia due to various injuries and Urdinov has capitalized to earn the trust of Toshack and maintain a place on the team.

MF: When and where did you start your football career?
YU: I started my football career at the age of 7 in KV Mechelen. I played there until I was 12 years old. From there I went to PSV Eindhoven and stayed there until I was 16. After that, I continued my career in Roda JC  Kerkrade. At the age of 18 I signed my first professional contract.

MF: You are now playing in Lithuania. How do you adapt to the local life and language?
YU: I live here in a small city called Panevėžys, it’s a very peaceful and quiet place. My apartment is near a beautiful park, ideal situation for a footballer. The first 3 months were very difficult for me because almost nobody speaks English and the Lithuanian language is not similar to any language that I speak. Now my wife is here with me and my life is just like before.

MF: You played in the Macedonian league for a brief period with Rabotnichki. What’s the difference between the football in Macedonia and Lithuania?
YU: Here in Lithuania the conditions for training are better and the stadiums are also better. The games are at a higher level. Ekranas is a big name in Lithuania, without competition, from here Mr. Toshack called me up to play for the national team of Macedonia. Ekranas is a good team to grow as a footballer and serves as a perfect stepping stone to a bigger club.

MF: Macedonia will now face Lithuania in a friendly game in which you are summoned. How can you describe our opponents? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What player should Macedonia fear the most?
YU: The Lithuanian team attempt to play very organized, it’s a tough team. They play very defensively but lack creativity. We play at home and I think if we play to our level we have to beat them. Lithuania doesn’t have a player who can make a difference alone against our Macedonia.

MF: In the qualifications for the World Cup 2014, Macedonia is in the same group with Belgium. What do you think about this encounter?
YU: For me this is a special encounter, because at the age of 16 I played for the Belgian national youth teams. I‘m born and raised in Belgium but because my heart and soul is in Macedonia, I chose to play for Macedonia. Belgium is a very strong team, in my opinion if I look at the names who are called up for their friendly match against the Netherlands, I can say maybe they are in the top 10 best national teams in the world at the moment.

MF: You had you senior debut for Macedonia against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. What was the feeling?
YU: For me it was the best feeling in the world to play against Portugal and such big names as Ronaldo, but at the same time there was also pressure to prove myself for the opportunity that was given to me. It was my debut for the national team, and that against Portugal, so it wasn’t an easy job but I got help from the older experienced players in our team. They accepted me from the beginning and gave me very good advice on what things I have to watch out for and just to play my game like I know how to. I want to thank them for this.

MF: Through Facebook, you often wrote optimistic and motivational posts for your U21 teammates. Is the harmony and friendship that big in the U21 national team?
YU: Yes, we all know each other for a very long time. We win together, we lose together. We are always there for each other, we are fighting for one another, we accept each other as we are, and we are all the same. There are no stars in the U21 team and that makes us a unified team.

MF: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself?
YU: I’m a young player and it’s very important for me to play. In Ekranas I play every match so I can grow as a player and if I continue working hard, in a few years I see myself in some good European club.

MF: Who’s your favorite player/idol and why?
YU: There are many players that I respect but I don’t really have one idol in particular.

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