England manager Mo Marley was reluctant to relinquish her hold on the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship trophy during the pre-tournament press conference. But if the message of respectful determination coming out of the Germany, Italy and Scotland camps is anything to go by, the holders' grip will be tested.
Asked if she wanted to hold the trophy as the four Group A coaches posed for a photo, Marley jokingly grabbed it and proclaimed: "It's mine." Many a true word is spoken in jest, though, and having broken their duck at this level in Belarus ten months ago England are determined to build on that success. "We know we're in a very strong group and now it's about how we approach it and prepare," said Marley. "We did so well last year but this is a different challenge."
The presence of 12 of the 2008/09 squad will help, and Marley hopes "our experience will bring us to the fore" when they kick off their defence against a Scotland side she believes are on the rise. It is a viewpoint shared by Scottish counterpart Shelley Kerr. "I've been working with this group of players for just over a year and they've developed and progressed so much," the 40-year-old told UEFA.com. "
We'll be seen as underdogs because we qualified as the best runners-up, but that's not our mindset. We're there on merit."
Two years ago, of course, Norway had a similar route to France and went all the way to the final before becoming unstuck against a slick Italy side. The Azzurrine failed to reach the finals to defend their title last year but were unstoppable in qualifying this time around, scoring 25 goals and conceding just one as they won all six of their games. "We have a lot of respect for all the teams – especially Germany and England – but we'll give our all to get to the semi-finals," said coach Corrado Corradini. "This is almost a completely different team [to 2008], with only a few girls remaining; but we're well prepared."
Asked about his side's prospects for the opening game Corradini wryly replied: "We want to break Germany, beat them heavily." Maren Meinert anticipates a tighter affair. "The first match of the tournament is always characterised by caginess and we have great respect for Italy; it will be very hard to beat them," said the Germany boss. Especially, perhaps, without highly-regarded duo Alexandra Popp and Dzsenifer Marozsán, rested because of the forthcoming FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. "I think they would have made a difference," said Meinert.
She added: "But
it's important that as many young players as possible have this experience so I'm happy with this team. I think we can hold our own." Few would bet against the three-time holders, though it would be imprudent to rule out any side in this tight-looking section.
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