Not only are Belgium making their UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship finals debut on Tuesday, they earned their place in Nyon by eliminating a nation who had never failed to qualify, Germany. Ahead of their last-four encounter with Poland, Joëlle Piron – with 11 years' service, the longest-serving Belgium women's coach – speaks to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: How proud are you of making the finals?
Joëlle Piron: I am very proud of this qualification, especially as it is the first time for Belgium. It was not easy. We played [the second qualifying round] in early March but because of postponed matches we finally played our last match in April. We were in a difficult group with European champions Germany and third-placed Denmark.
It all came down to the last match against Germany on 3 April. We had played very well in the first two [1-1 against Denmark and 3-0 against the Netherlands], and against Germany we played very well too [0-0]. The players prepared very well despite the wait. So I am very proud, it was an unexpected result for everyone. But given the football we played, we certainly deserved it. It was a reward for the hard and great work of the whole team.
UEFA.com: Did you think you could knock out Germany?
Piron: Although we play every match to win, we knew it was difficult against the champions of Europe, who had qualified five times out of five. This is the only time they have not qualified. After the first two matches we really started believing. We learned a lot in the first two matches, and we knew Germany very well on a tactical level and found the right way to not concede a goal. I always believe in my team and in victory, but against the European champions one has to be realistic and say, 'This could be difficult.' So it was a bit unexpected, but we kept believing.
UEFA.com: How important is this qualification for this generation of players?
Piron: This is a good generation and it is of huge importance to qualify. Now the players know and realise they are just as strong as players from other nations. They have just as much quality as the Germans, who had a very good preparation. That means that in Belgium we are also working very well with the lesser means we have – we can also play decent football.
A lot of our players have the quality and now they, and the Belgian people, realise that we have the quality despite our more modest resources. We always try to work as professionally as possible and now we have seen the fruits of that.
UEFA.com: What does this say about the development of Belgian women's football?
Piron: The development is there. More and more girls are starting to play football. I also have to underline that a lot of my players played football in mixed teams with boys this season. That is another reason for this result. Over the last few years we have also been given more resources, so now I have an assistant and a goalkeeper trainer. But mostly we still work the same way, we do not have more training sessions.
UEFA.com: What are your expectations for the semi-final?
Piron: We are just heading into the semi-finals with the aim to win. Every result depends on small details. I think we have a 50% chance. Poland are a dangerous team. I just hope I will be able to field my strongest side, so hopefully we'll avoid injuries. I have a good core of players, with some being hard to replace. If I can play with my best players I think we can win this semi-final. And if we get to the final, then everything is possible, as it is just one match. But it will be very tough – for instance if we had to play two-time champions Spain.
UEFA.com: How are you preparing for the semi?
Piron: It is difficult, because the players are in their exam period at school while the clubs have stopped training so it is hard to stay into shape. We have had a few training sessions, we played against the U14 boys team from Tubize and against the U19s from Luxembourg.
UEFA.com: How well do you know Poland?
Piron: I saw Poland play Austria on 14 April, their last qualifier. We also saw footage of their match against Norway, which they won 3-0. And I played a few times against Poland in the past. Of course every season is a different team, but on a tactical level I know how they play. We know a bit about their best players and about their free-kicks and corners. But of course, we have to wait and see which players they use – that can always be unexpected, and maybe they will play different against us. But we have done our best to analyse them.
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