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Ilori dreaming of Euro title

Published 26/06/2015

Portugal's Tiago Ilori, left, has title ambitions
Portugal's Tiago Ilori, left, has title ambitions

As the post-mortem into England's latest failure continues, a young player from north London is still dreaming of lifting the Under-21 European Championship.

Tiago Ilori is the sole British player left competing in the Czech Republic, albeit the Hampstead-born defender is donning the famous green and red of Portugal.

His name will pique the interest of many Premier League fans, especially those with connections to the red side of Merseyside.

Ilori joined Liverpool two years ago in a £7million deal from Sporting Lisbon, but has yet to make his Reds debut having been farmed out on loan to Granada and Bordeaux.

Brendan Rodgers has not given up the on the 22-year-old, though, and he is certainly not doing himself any harm with his displays in the Czech Republic - even if he ends up missing Saturday's mouth-watering semi-final against Germany through injury.

It would be a big blow for Ilori given he started all three matches as Portugal topped Group B, opening the tournament with a 1-0 win against England - a country he is still eligible to represent, even if a change of heart now appears unlikely.

"I think Tiago, if you ask him, his allegiance football-wise is definitely Portugal," Ilori's father Kola, who hails from Camden, said on the eve of the semi-final.

"It's where he has been. I think there's seven guys that came the Sporting ranks so he is pretty close to them."

Ilori came through at Sporting with the likes of William Carvalho, Joao Mario and Ricardo Esgaio, although their route to this point could not have been much different.

Born to a Portuguese mother, Sao, and Nigerian-English father, Kola, the defender grew up in Hampstead with older siblings Ricardo and Karlaa.

His auntie nicknamed him Charles as a kid given his plummy accent was so similar to Prince Charles', but that softened after the family swapped north London for the Algarve when he was seven.

Even by that point Ilori was a keen footballer - driven in no small part by competition with his brother - but his education truly began in Portugal, with his performances for Imortal in Albufeira impressing Sporting.

For a long while the family made the 300-mile round-trip to Lisbon at weekends just so he could play, before eventually making the decision to up sticks and move to the Portuguese capital.

It was a wrench given Ilori's siblings were settled in school and his parents ran a restaurant, and the move looked to have gone sour when the young defender was effectively released aged 14.

Sporting promised to keep tabs when he joined up with Estoril and they were suitably impressed by his progress, leading him to return to a club where he would move into the first-team before joining Liverpool.

It is fair to say things have not gone to plan since the move to Anfield, but there does now appear to be light at the end of the tunnel.

The powers that be are said to be keen to extend Ilori's contract and he will return to pre-season fit for the first time since moving to Anfield.

"He is determined to make a success of it at Liverpool," Kola said. "You don't give up on it lightly.

"There's a long list of central defenders, as we well know, in front of him, but that's the way it goes in football."

Kola will be there to support Tiago regardless of how it pans out, making the journey to see him play wherever it may be.

For now that means he is in Olomouc with eldest son Ricardo and they hope a trip to Prague for the tournament finale is also on the cards.

Whatever happens, this will be a memorable summer for Ilori given his partner is expecting their first child at the end of July.

If he can add a European Championship medal before that, then this dream summer may well be one which excites Liverpool fans and leaves the Football Association ruing what could have been.

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