The expansion of the UEFA European Women's Championship final tournament to 12 sides has been a success says Scotland manager Anna Signeul, a member of the UEFA Technical Team in Finland.
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The expansion of the UEFA European Women's Championship final tournament to 12 teams has proved a success believes Scotland manager Anna Signeul, a member of the UEFA Technical Team in Finland.
For the 2009 finals, four extra nations were allowed entry, with the Netherlands, Iceland and Ukraine all earning debuts, while Russia returned after missing out in 2005, pipping Signeul's Scotland on away goals in the play-offs. The Oranje performed best, reaching the semi-finals, but all four put in fine performances.
Signeul, one of four national coaches helping to produce the UEFA Technical Report along with Spain's Ignacio Quereda, Switzerland's Béatrice von Siebenthal and Belgium's Anne Noë, told uefa.com: "The one thing we are very pleased with is the increase of teams. We think that has made the tournament more competitive. We think the four teams have contributed to producing different football that has made it more interesting and attractive. We are very pleased with the standard of the games and the standard four years ago was quite high as well."
At that tournament in England, Signeul was also a technical observer along with her Scotland predecessor Vera Pauw, who at this tournament coached the Netherlands to success. This time Signeul believes more young players have shone. "There have been changes in the squads, some older players who made an impact four years ago are not here any more and some are here but are getting a bit older," she said. "We have seen many young players. Four years ago we had [Louisa] Nécib and [Isabell] Herlovsen, and they are here now. We have seen young squads. Germany have two very young starting players; Kim Kulig the central midfielder, she only had nine caps, and Bianca Schmidt, the right-back, started instead of Kerstin Stegemann who has 190 caps, she had just five. That's a bit different to four years ago."
That development is partly put down to the growing impact of international youth tournaments by Signeul, who herself led Sweden to victory at the 1999 UEFA European Women's Under-18 Championship. "That's why we've seen these young players perform so well," she said. "The Russia players who had an impact were the ones that won the  U19 Championship. The experience of playing in tournament football is fantastic for their development. It makes it easier for them to come into this environment, they know what is expected and they know a bit about the pressure. That's what I emphasised when I was a youth coach − that it is important to get these tournaments for young players so we don't need so many tournaments for them to perform, they can go in their first championship and perform like Kulig and others."