The four teams at the 2012 UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship finals may feel their nerves jangling as the tournament approaches, but Switzerland forward Ramona Bachmann believes the best approach is for them to relax and enjoy themselves.
"My message to them is 'enjoy taking part'," says Bachmann, who as tournament ambassador has a keen interest in how events unfold from Tuesday. "They should play with courage and try not to be inhibited. That can happen quite quickly as people always want to do their best at tournaments like this, but just relax and go about your business."
Bachmann did just that at the 2009 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, when her dazzling displays took Switzerland to the semi-final. Now a regular fixture at senior level, the FC Malmö striker – who twice featured in UEFA Women's Cup finals with Umeå IK – considers that U19 tournament a key step in her career.
"Taking part in a major tournament is a colossal event, up there with the biggest honours a player can achieve. I enjoyed it.
You play against the best and you find out how good you are." Very good, in the case of Bachmann, who earned a transfer to Atlanta Beat in the United States following the 2009 event.
It was in Switzerland, though, that she learned her trade and the striker sings the praises of the Swiss Football Association (ASF/SFV)'s Huttwil academy which has been educating and training the nation's finest young female players since 2004.
"I was among the first group of players to go through there. It was one of the best things I've experienced. I was still young, just 13, but I really learned a lot. I had to stand on my own two feet and I became more independent. It wasn't easy to begin with, but I developed hugely, both personally and as a footballer."
No amount of coaching would have made a difference if not for Bachmann's will to succeed, however. "If you have a goal in mind, you make any and every sacrifice to achieve it. I left my family when I was young and had barely any time for my friends. You have to be very disciplined. Training is the top priority, but you also have to eat well and go to bed early. These things are simply more important than going out with friends."
With Switzerland competing in this final tournament for the first time, Bachmann is eager to see how her Huttwil successors fair. "It's important for Swiss football, of course, but also for the young players to show their international pedigree. They get a chance to compete with other top teams and gain recognition. I'm really looking forward to seeing them perform, how they present themselves and how they develop."
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