The road to UEFA Women's EURO 2013 starts in Malta and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Thursday when the two preliminary round mini-tournaments begin.
Eight teams are taking part in the two groups that run until next Tuesday, with the section winners progressing to join the 36 highest-ranked qualifying hopefuls in the group stage draw in Nyon on 14 March. From there they will compete for 11 places in the finals alongside hosts Sweden. UEFA.com hears from the coaches of the preliminary round contenders.
Dobrislav Dimovski, FYROM (hosts)
Winning the group is our goal, there's no doubt about that. However, we know it won't be easy because all the teams are roughly the same level. Our regular midfielder Mladena Petrova will miss the tournament due to serious injury and that's a handicap for us, but on the other hand we have received good news from Germany where our captain Nataša Andonova has debuted for Turbine Potsdam recently. That means she is in good shape.
We have an experienced squad, the players know each other very well, and eight of them play together for our league leaders [ZFK Naše Taksi]. I share my players' optimism about our qualities and the fact we are playing on home soil could lift us to top spot.
Rimantas Viktoravičius, Lithuania
We know Latvia very well and have some information on FYROM, while Luxembourg are more of an unknown quantity. I think all the teams are similar – you could finish first or end up fourth. The first game will be vital.
Jean Romain, Luxembourg
We have drawn 1-1 with Lithuania in Luxembourg and two years ago won 4-3 at their place so I believe we have a chance against them. As for Latvia, I can only say that we beat them 3-0 in a tournament in Luxembourg but lost 1-0 to them in Malta last year. So hopefully we'll win this time. I cannot say much about FYROM as we have never played them before, but looking at their results I would think they have to be favourites. We will definitely go there and try to win as many games as possible with a very young side. Eight of our 18 players are aged 17 or younger.
Didzis Matīss, Latvia
There are no clear favourites in our group. All the sides are roughly even, with only FYROM possibly slightly better than the rest. Our primary task is to compete for first place. I believe the team are capable of that, we have strong players that are eager to make their mark. Julija Sokolova, for example, can be a leader in any situation. Another task is to tell people that women's football does exist in Latvia. Few have heard of it, and this tournament is a chance to make a name for ourselves. We have to give it all our energy and I hope we are ready.
Pierre Brincat, Malta (hosts)
I am very wary about these three matches. We have been preparing for this tournament since our last competitive game against Spain last June. We have improved over recent friendlies with good results too – the last being a 4-0 win over Italian Serie A2 side Marsala here in Malta. Our squad has also been strengthened by the introduction of Kirsty Feasey, who plays her football in England with Reading. Just 18, she opted to play for Malta due to the fact her mother and grandmother are Maltese.
Women's football in Malta is on the rise. We now have in motion a schools competition and we have the Malta Under-13 team. Our main objective is putting in more creditable performances and trying to notch a point or two which will eventually help our FIFA and UEFA rankings. We have a very young squad as well as young players who are ready to come into contention in the near future.
Teimuraz Svanadze, Georgia
We have just one goal – to win this preliminary round and earn the right to take part in qualification proper. We were not the same team at the end of 2011 World Cup qualifying that we were at the beginning. We gained experience from match to match and I hope it will help us in Malta. There are no big changes in the squad as we have added just one new player, FC Kobuleti defender Maia Meskhidze.
Vagharshak Aslanyan, Armenia
We have prepared for this tournament very diligently. We have a young but at the same time quite experienced squad. We are not expecting a stroll, but we are determined to win the group and we will give everything to do that. The most important thing is that our players recognise the significance of the competition and are fully motivated. Armenian football is on the rise, and this women's national side will do their best.
Álvur Hansen, Faroe Islands
We have trained hard since mid-November. The girls have trained three times a week and I think they are in quite decent shape now. I'm not really sure about the strength of our opponents, but judging from their results then we should have a good opportunity to do well in the competition.
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