Germany picked up a fifth consecutive UEFA European Women's Championship title last summer – and the official UEFA publication The Women's Technician explains that the finals showed women's football continues to make rapid progress.
The latest edition of the magazine reports that representatives from 51 of UEFA's 53 member associations gathered in Nyon for the maiden UEFA Women's National Team Coaches Conference at the end of November to share know-how and experience, as well as highlight the lessons to be learned from last year's tournament.
More than 7 million German television viewers watched their country lift the trophy in Finland, and the conference delegates agreed the unprecedented TV audiences were also matched by marked improvements on the pitch.
"A lot of teams impressed me," said Germany coach Silvia Neid. "The game was played at a higher pace, and I would say that the difference in terms of coaching, positional play and tactics in comparison with the 1997 finals, for example, was simply incredible."
UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh concurred, citing better goalkeeping, higher quality crossing and finishing, and more tactical flexibility as just some of the advances seen. "The top teams showed that team shape mattered," he said. "A disciplined defensive structure and a framework for attacking fluidity and creativity were important."
Well-drilled defences did not stop teams from scoring, with the championship averaging three goals a game, only slightly down on the 2005 competition and a marked gain on the two tournaments prior to that. Sharper defending did, however, lead coaches to innovate tactically, with an emphasis placed on executing rapid counterattacks. "We worked hard on winning the ball in midfield to set up fast, vertical moves," admitted Neid, whose side contributed to 22 per cent of the competition's 75 goals scored on the break. "Managing to do that effectively was one of the reasons behind our success."
Set-pieces proved even more effective, with 27 per cent of strikes stemming from dead-ball situations while crosses were the prelude to 40 per cent of goals. Germany's 6-2 victory against England in the final capped an entertaining tournament, which had proved an excellent advertisement for the women's game. "This is paramount for the future of the sport," England coach Hope Powell told the conference. "It is the way to get more girls interested in playing football, to persuade national associations to place greater value on women's football and to contribute more to the game's development."
The championship also aided UEFA's ongoing injury research project, and Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt and Karolina Kristenson presented a summary of the findings to the conference. However, the overriding conclusion to be drawn from events in Finland is that Germany remain the team to beat. "The players on the German bench would be starters in other teams," noted Powell, while Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen, whose side were beaten in both the group stage and the semi-finals by the eventual winners, conceded: "Germany are ahead of us because they have top players and top coaches."
Neid stressed it had not all been plain sailing – "I had my ups and downs like the other coaches," she said – and added that now was not a time for women's football to rest on its laurels. "We need to pay a lot of attention to the training of female coaches – not only for the elite teams, but at grassroots level as well," she said. "We are at risk of letting young players work with coaches who haven't really got enough tactical know-how. There is still a lot of room for improvement."
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