The second day of the 5th UEFA Women's Football Conference in Oslo began with Vera Pauw's technical review of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™, a tournament which underlined the "remarkable development" of the female game.
Along with Anna Signeul, the Swedish coach of Scotland, Pauw spent two weeks in England analysing tactics and trends as part of the UEFA technical study group. In her opening address, the Dutchwoman said: "Overall the level of play has improved significantly. Technically and tactically it does not compare to a few years ago and you can hardly believe it is the same sport. The competitiveness of matches highlighted the development; the gap between those teams which reached the semi-finals and those which didn't has decreased."
Pauw is well placed to comment on the giant strides women's football has taken, having played club football in her homeland and Italy in addition to winning 87 caps for the Netherlands. A move into coaching and administration was an obvious step for this deep-thinking player, and Pauw has since forged an excellent reputation as a coach of both Scotland and the Netherlands and as a member of FIFA's technical committee.
Pauw identified core areas where the game has moved on since the 2001 UEFA European Women's Championship in Germany, a tournament won by the host nation and successfully defended this summer. "The organisation of teams is now at a high level, and you can now see that players have a clear strategy," Pauw said. "The technical skills have also developed - strikers are now real strikers, defenders are real defenders - rather than interchanging positions.
"There is also increased flexibility to the way teams approach games. Finland were a classic example in the way they adapted their game to suit different opponents. Teams are now extremely fit and are reaping the benefits of more training. Norway midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsen had the energy to go on and on and on. In general, though, all teams can now play until the end of a game whereas before there was a tendency to fall apart in the final 15 minutes."
The increasing pace of the women's game, typified by the play at WOMEN'S EURO, was attributed to a need for European teams to catch up with the United States ("America won everything because they were fitter and stronger than other teams who couldn't handle that. They made everyone jump a level"), but has also brought some negatives. Pauw added: "Often the pace was so high in games at EURO that players struggled to convert chances and passes in the final third."
Pauw attributed the increasing number of supporters attending women's matches to the development and attractiveness of the game, with England a prime example. More than 117,000 supporters passed through the turnstiles at WOMEN'S EURO, figures which helped leave "a great legacy" in the country according to Hope Powell. The England coach said: "The tournament had a massive impact and hosting it enabled us to win more fans.
"The TV coverage was a major part of this as it gave us new fans who had perhaps not watched women's football before. More and more younger girls are now coming into the game and there's lots of opportunities for them. The knock-on effect is that we had a crowd of over a thousand for a recent women's Under-19 qualifier with kids looking for autographs. The spill over from EURO is about all levels and that's been really positive."
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