With a newly expanded tournament, ambassador Casey Stoney has savoured the opportunity to witness a diverse range of talent on show at the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship.
The England centre-back, capped 113 times by her country during 13 years of service to date, paid tribute to a "fantastic" home finals and its potential impact on aspiring women footballers. The high-tempo approach adopted by the eight competing teams and quality of their play has also caught the imagination of Stoney, who spends her spare time inspiring the next generation.
UEFA.com: How have you enjoyed the tournament?
Casey Stoney: It has been a fantastic tournament so far and has been a great exposure to tournament football for [the England team], with the crowds, the pressure and being the home team. It will be invaluable for the players in the future.
UEFA.com: Do you wish you'd had that at that age?
Stoney: Absolutely. I didn't play my first tournament until I was maybe 17 in the U18s, but it was never like this, it wasn't as big as this. The interest in women's football wasn't there as much as it is now. It is fantastic to see over 2,000 people watching in the stands, and the FA has done a fantastic job of promoting the tournament. Also, it has given local schools access to games. Young girls can watch and say 'actually this is something I want to do', so it gives them role models closer to their age that they can aspire to be like.
UEFA.com: Thoughts on the standard?
Stoney: I've been really impressed. A colleague of mine has come to a couple of games and said he's been really impressed by the tempo of the play. I was really impressed by the two centre-halves of England against Austria, the way they played out from the back, the way they stepped out with the ball, and to score six goals against Portugal is a fantastic result in European football. It shows all the work going in at centre of excellences, and with younger age groups, is starting to pay off.
UEFA.com Do you know the figures for the rising number of girls playing football?
Stoney: I don't know the exact figures, but I am hoping off the back of the Olympics last year that this would have had a massive knock-on [effect]. It is a sport for everybody, and for me, even with local kids who have come down and watched this, I hope that it will have a knock-on effect in the local area, and girls' football will blossom and grow.
UEFA.com: Do you coach yourself?
Stoney: I work with the Lincolnshire FA's U17s centre of excellence. I do it because I love coaching. I love working with the girls at that age group, because that for me is the bridge or the stepping stone between youth football and senior football, so it is really important. It is important that psychologically, physically and tactically they are ready.
We try to put a lot of work into the girls, we expect certain standards. I coach the U17s. We have a squad of 18 at the moment and I coach them two days a week. That has been a massive learning curve for me. I coach and have to realise they are not at my level, but developing to become what I want them to be. I would love to be involved with England and start coaching there.
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