UEFA Technical Observer Graham Turner has been impressed with the rising standard of play at the 2008 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, with the gap between the best and the rest growing ever smaller.
"What has struck me above everything else has been the increase of technical ability and the equality between the teams," said Turner. "Even if you go back only a few years there were some teams that were head and shoulders above the others. Some are still a bit ahead but the differences are narrowing all the time." The statistics bear that out, and of the 15 matches played in the Loire Valley only three had three-goal margins or more, with tournament winners Italy on the receiving end against Spain as they sought to rest players. Scotland shipped seven against Germany and went home without a point, yet they had previously pushed England and Sweden all the way in Group B. "Their contribution was invaluable," Turner continues. "They came here without any complexes and played some good attacking football."
That attacking football has put a lot of pressure on the goalkeepers, and Turner believes they have stood up, dived low and leapt high to the challenge. "In the past it always seemed to be one of the weak links," he said. "But lots of the teams now have goalkeeping coaches and a lot of hard work is being done to raise the standard of goalkeeping. A lot of them are tall, which hasn't always been the case, and perhaps they have to be because there have been a lot of crosses and high balls. Being a goalkeeper in this tournament has been quite demanding and very few have had the luxury of a quiet game."
The improved technique of outfield players and goalkeepers alike – across the board – has meant mistakes are all the more costly, the difference between winning and losing becoming smaller and smaller. "England went out narrowly and France did the same so the margin between success and failure is very slim indeed," said Turner. "It's been a very good, interesting tournament with lots of different styles and lots of different structures within the teams and the ability to modify the tactical shape of teams according to the situation during the games. It's becoming much more sophisticated."
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