If the 2012 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship shone the spotlight on some of the continent's more peripheral players, the big names returned to the stage for 2013 as Wales hosted its maiden UEFA tournament.
It was a first, too, for Wales, sole debutants on an all-star billing. Four-time winners Germany led the cast, returning to the finals eager to make up for the previous year's failure to qualify for the first time. Yet there was also holders Sweden, 2009 winners England, three-time runners-up Norway, resurgent Denmark and Finland and last but not least, France.
Les Bleuettes were dark horses, rising stars seeing if they were ready to tread the boards in a larger theatre. For coach Gilles Eyquem these were doubly unfamiliar surrounds – 12 months earlier he had never trained girls in his life. The nucleus of his squad came from seven of the team that won the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup the previous October – they did not look out of place; indeed by the end, the owned it.
For a while, though, it was all about Germany. If Maren Meinert's team induced terror before the tournament then that turned to dread during 45 minutes of sumptuous football against Norway. By the end of it Germany were 5-0 up, Pauline Bremer, 17, scoring the first three of her finals-leading six goals. Norway held out in the second period, but a 1-0 defeat next time out by Finland ended their ambitions.
Finland, returning to this event after an seven-year absence, went into the final day in pole position for a place in the last four having held holders Sweden in their Group B opener, needing only a point. Their opponents were Germany, whose progress was assured after beating Sweden 2-0 but Marianne Miettinen's side did not disappoint, drawing 1-1 – they were not to know Norway were routing Sweden 5-0.
England and France emerged from Group A, France winning 3-0 to consign Wales to a third loss. It appeared enough to secure top spot but two goals in the last five minutes against Denmark elevated England above them. Mo Marley's team's reward was a last-four meeting with Finland – on paper simpler than Germany. They certainly made it look easy as three first-half goals set England on course for a 4-0 win.
The earlier semi had been tighter, tenser and, after an inspired second-half substitution from Eyquem, full of drama. Within eight minutes his replacement, Kadidiatou Diani, had scored twice. Bremer pulled one back with a stoppage-time penalty but it was too late, French celebrations tarnished only by the red card to captain Griedge M'Bock Bathy that ruled her out of the final.
Eyquem in fact made four changes to his starting XI for the showpiece, a show of strength that was rewarded when, after 185 scoreless minutes between the sides – they drew 0-0 on the opening day – there was an extra-time breakthrough. Sandie Toletti made it, scoring with a deflected header, and Aminata Diallo added another six minutes from the end as France etched their name on the trophy for a third time.
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