Hesterine de Reus has worked as part of UEFA's technical study group at recent UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championships but is delighted to be travelling to Skopje in a different role this summer: as Netherlands coach.
De Reus was an assistant the last time the Oranje graced these finals, going home after the group stage in 2006, and has had to enjoy the tournaments almost vicariously as she assessed trends within the female game at this level. Now, though, she will lead her young team into their third finals full of belief.
"We have a hungry, energetic group of players who last year, as the Under-17 team, fell one goal short of qualifying in their final match against France," explained the 48-year-old. "This year they were extra motivated and said: 'It won't happen again, this year we will qualify!' And
that drive, the will to perform, the faith they can do it; that is something very special in this squad. They really are a very fine group of players."
That acclaim has been hard-earned, a side spearheaded by FC Twente striker Ellen Jansen impressing as they topped a tough section including Finland, Scotland and Denmark in the second qualifying round. Their reward was a place in the finals, where they have been paired with Spain, hosts the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and their opening opponents next Monday, France.
"I'm glad we are not in a group with Germany and England as they are the top sides," said De Reus, a former Dutch international. "France, Spain and the Netherlands are on a similar level.
It will be a close call and could go either way: we may return home after the first stage or we could just as easily qualify for the final four.
"The players' limitation is inexperience in a tournament like this, where every match is like a final," she added. "You have to win all those finals to reach the next stage. So the question is whether we can handle that, whether we can maintain our form under that huge pressure. We may even play better because of it."
For a more in-depth look at the Netherlands and how they approach these finals, click here.
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