Belgium's dream of winning the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship may be over but midfielder Shayna Raekelboom is savouring an experience she hopes can be a stepping stone for bigger things.
Raekelboom, one of Belgium's standout performers in qualifying for their first final tournament, scored three goals in five games as they finished top of a group containing defending champions Germany and last season's third-placed team, Denmark. Now in Nyon, she is relishing every moment. "It is a great experience to be here. Everything is very serious, we didn't expect that. It is great for me to be here, it is something that so many girls dream of," she told UEFA.com.
"It is incredible to be playing for the national team and to have reached that level, but I don't think it is the highest level, you can always improve. For every player, even if you don't play in the national team, you should never say that you are not as good as the others. You must always think about being stronger than the rest. I don't only think about playing for the national team, I want to improve and do my best."
Belgium ran out of steam on Tuesday, succumbing 3-1 to Poland at the semi-final juncture, yet they can still finish on a high by overcoming Spain in Friday's third-place play-off."To show people in Belgium that we can finish in third place is really important because a lot of people in Belgium believe in women's football. We must show that we can achieve something, and third place will hold a lot of significance for Belgium. I think we should do everything to achieve it," said the teenager.
Raekelboom, who took her first steps in football at the age of eight, got her big break when she was spotted by RSC Anderlecht before moving to FCF White Star Bruxelles. Born into football, the 16-year-old revealed that her passion for the game comes from within the family. "My dad played at quite a high level. He's crazy about football. Even as a kid I played with a ball. When I started my parents didn't believe that I would continue in football. It is thanks to my dad that I have made it, and without him I would have probably stopped playing.
"He is always there for me. He gives me a lot of advice, especially on what I have done wrong, what I should do better. He knows that motivating me and only highlighting what I have done right will not take me any further. That has always helped me, because I know what I have to work on."
Looking to the future, Raekelboom has ambitions of playing outside of Belgium. "I have always been thinking about America. It's been a dream since I was a little girl," she said, with victory against Spain nonetheless her immediate concern.
©UEFA.com 1998-2015. All rights reserved.