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Switzerland may be taking part in their first UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship in Nyon, but they are intent on doing more than merely making up the numbers.
After edging through a tight section including England, Iceland and hosts Belgium, Brigitte Steiner's team have set their sights on glory – starting with victory over neighbours France.
"We are certainly not here to lose against France," said Steiner. "We are here to beat them." Victory would ensure not only a place in Friday's final, against either Denmark or Germany, but also a ticket to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan this September. "This year is even more exceptional because last time there were three and the time before that there were four who qualified for the World Cup, but now it is only two," said France coach Francisco Rubio. "We have to win if we want to go to Azerbaijan."
France came through their qualifying group in Norway with a perfect record, beating their hosts 4-0 in the final group game. However, preparations since that victory have not been so easy. "A lot of our girls had their Baccalaureate so we only really had three days together at the end of the year," said Rubio. "We wanted to play a friendly, but sadly we could not arrange one. All we have managed is to play against a few club teams, and then we got together last Thursday." Furthermore, Rubio says, the Swiss have "a bit of an advantage" playing at home.
"We have five girls who were with us last year and it is a big experience for them," continued Rubio. "These are international games in an international tournament and it is great preparation. I think all of us want to win it, but we will be taking it game by game."
Steiner sees it similarly. "We have already reached one goal, but we know that the road does not end here," she said. "This is a big thing for us. It is a good path for the players to follow and to experience this, and it is special to be involved here in Switzerland."
Steiner also feels training with the emerging talents of their Swiss male counterparts at the country's new centre of excellence is paving the way for a bright future for women's football in Switzerland. "We are starting to see the fruits of that," she added. "We're gaining a lot from training in Huttwil and we have noticed a good development."
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