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Spain come into the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship determined to win their third title – with debutants Sweden equally bent on stopping their progress in Tuesday's semi-final confrontation at Colovray Stadium in Nyon.
The young Spaniards have set high standards over the years, lifting the European Women's U17 title in 2010 and 2011, and finishing runners-up in 2009. They yearn to join Germany as three-time champions but face a stern challenge from a Swedish team vowing to give their country a women's football boost ahead of UEFA Women's EURO 2013 on home soil next month.
"Confidence is good," said Spain coach Jorge Vilda, who has happy memories of European triumphs in Nyon. "The entire team are very eager to get going, they are full of hope and expectation. We have been very keen for this moment to arrive, and now it is here and we are 24 hours away from possibly reaching a final. Encouragement and eagerness are at 100%."
Nevertheless, Vilda – whose charges accounted for France, Northern Ireland and Finland in the second qualifying round – warned them of Sweden's considerable threat. "I was fortunate enough to see their last game in the second qualifying phase in which they lost 1-0 to Italy but had already qualified," he explained. "They are physically very strong and play in a very similar way to the Under-19 side we faced in the final of that age group last summer in Turkey. We know, of course, that we have a very hard match ahead.
"It is already an incentive to be here in the final phase, while another incentive will be to play the final itself. If we managed to reach the final and win it, we would have three titles like Germany, plus one more final appearance than them."
Sweden are in the finals for the first time, and coach Yvonne Ekroth feels they are peaking at the right moment given the Swedish summer season. "The difference between playing [the second qualifying round] in April, and now in June, is that we are in better shape," said Ekroth, whose squad overcame Czech Republic, Italy and Switzerland two months ago. "All the players are more confident than in April. During this journey with a young team over two years, they have had this goal, and they have made history in Sweden because it's the first time they have reached this final round. They feel happy to be here."
Ekroth is relishing taking on talented Spanish opposition. "We know that Spain have done well [in Nyon] several times, they know the surroundings," she reflected, "so it feels like we don't have anything to lose. We are happy to play against Spain, the players can measure themselves against the Spanish players. They have trained over several years to play against good teams, and now they have achieved that. The players say that when we leave Switzerland, we have to feel we have done our very best."
Admission for all games in the UEFA European Women's U17 Championship in Nyon this week is free, and tickets can be picked up from various locations in the Swiss town.
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