The UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship has already produced its share of excitement, upsets, attractive football and brilliant goals, leading Andreas Morisbak of UEFA's technical team to conclude that the game is "continuing to develop well". Initially introduced in 1997 as an U18 event, the competition has flourished over the past decade as the standard improves year upon year. The 2009 edition in Belarus – which reaches its climax when England take on Sweden on Saturday – has been particularly competitive, attracting record crowds.
"This year we have seen many well-educated teams," Morisbak told uefa.com. "The women's game is still relatively young but it's continuing to develop well. Watching the matches has been very enjoyable because the teams are trying to play the right way – their football understanding has improved and the skills have reached quite a high level. The girls are making the right decisions on the pitch. They usually deliver the right passes, their touches are very precise, they can dribble and turn. The teams have also been physically fit, coping very well with the high temperatures."
The pace and intensity has been especially impressive, with sides emphasising attack rather than adopting a cautious approach. "The teams have been positive but they've attacked in different ways," explained Morisbak, a senior adviser for development with the Norwegian Football Association. "France played a fluid formation with three centre-backs. They are very skilful and played in a typical French style with short passes. Germany, on the other hand, used a 4-2-3-1 formation with two fast, skilful wingers and one of the two forwards, Dzenifer Marozsan, dropping deep. Against Switzerland, Marozsan didn't have a big impact because the Swiss No8 [Chantal Fimian] sat in front of the defence and denied her space."
Switzerland's 3-0 group triumph over Germany surprised many, including Morisbak, who attributed the result to the "two or three excellent Swiss individuals" and the canny tactics of coach Yannick Schwery. "Germany looked like the strongest team overall in Group A but their weakness was exposed against Switzerland – their back line was not fast enough to stop the No19 [Ramona Bachmann]," the former Norway and FC Lyn Oslo defender said. "The Swiss were also aggressive, blocking many shots and preventing Germany from playing their passing game from the back. When Switzerland attacked they were direct, hitting long balls into the channels for the forwards, who are very fast and made good diagonal runs."
'Finding a balance'
If tactics have played an important part in the tournament, fitness has also been crucial with temperatures soaring in excess of 30C. It was one factor, Morisbak reasoned, for England's semi-final success against Switzerland. "England are a good team, with no weak points," he added. "They're hard-working, aggressive and they have players with good skills. Switzerland are a bit more dependent on two or three players – if they succeed as they did against Germany then they do well, but if they don't, as against England, then they have problems. England took care of Bachmann, and although she got through a couple of times England have one of the best goalkeepers."
Morisbak believes Saturday's Borisov showpiece could be an "exciting final between two different styles". "Sweden are there because they're good in defence, make use of the long ball and are good at set-pieces – they scored three from corners against France [in the semi-final]," he explained. "In [Sofia] Jakobsson they have a very strong, athletic forward. England are strong, though. Over the last few years they have worked hard to improve and they've quickly improved their standard. Even after the semi-finals the reserves had a tough training session."
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