Female football is growing in more European countries than ever according to UEFA Women's Football Committee vice-chairwoman Susanne Erlandsson.
Speaking after the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship second qualifying round draw, and ahead of the formation of the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualification groups on Wednesday, Erlandsson is delighted at record entries this season for both competitions. "Both the number of countries and the standard have gone up," she told uefa.com. "Every year you see new countries coming and staying in the tournament for a long time."
Iceland are staging a major women's finals for the first time next July by putting on the U19 event, and Erlandsson is impressed by what she has seen there. "I've been to Iceland a couple of times so I know they are trying to put on a very good competition," the Swedish Football Association vice-president said. "They are really looking forward to hosting this tournament and it would mean a lot to Iceland as a country to host a tournament like this. It is very important for new countries to be hosting tournaments because it is a good chance for them to work with our organisation and promote women's or boys' football."
Holding a final tournament can have a long-term benefit on the pitch, as proved by England's recent successes in the wake of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™. "A good example is England - that meant a lot of women's football and girl's football there," Erlandsson said. "The same can apply to Iceland and to Finland with EURO 2009. They have the tournaments to promote women's and girls' football."
More innovations from UEFA are due, with the introduction from next season of the UEFA European Women's U17 Championship, and the addition of the UEFA European Women's Championship and UEFA Women's Cup to the governing body's professional department. The U17 and U19 events have been added to the Youth and Amateur Committee.
"The new U17 tournament has 40 entries, that is very good," Erlandsson said. "A lot of new countries are making improvements. The way UEFA has worked with U17 and U19 going into the youth committee, and others to the professional department, shows other associations that is the way to work - to integrate boys' and girls' football."
A change in the senior championship format this time around has meant the introduction of a preliminary round, allowing Northern Ireland, Wales, Israel, Romania and Slovakia to earn a place in the main qualifying draw, rather than competing in a lower division as before, while Luxembourg and F.Y.R. Macedonia both made their bows on the competitive women's scene by hosting mini-tournaments.
Erlandsson added: "I have talked to a couple of people and they are happy to have this chance. It is a good kick-off for countries who have not had women's football before. They were also surprised by the standard. So if they can use the two years until the next qualifiers for a development programme then the standard will rise further."