Usually when a team is deprived the services of its first-choice striker, those familiar foes injury and suspension are to blame. Not so the Netherlands at the 2010 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, however, where Ellen Jansen has just jetted back in to rejoin the squad after travelling home for school exams.
The 17-year-old finished joint top scorer in qualifying thanks in part to hat-tricks against Russia and Israel, but after the Jong Oranje's opening 2-0 victory over France she was obliged to journey home the following day. "I played against France and then on Tuesday morning I had to fly back to Holland because of exams," she said. "I only came back yesterday, but it hasn't really been a problem to switch between the two. The exams went very well."
The FC Twente striker missed the 7-0 win against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that took the Netherlands to the verge of the semi-finals from Group B, but she feels her tournament is yet to get started. "School is more important than soccer at the moment, so the best solution was to fly back and miss the game against Macedonia," she explained. "
I'm free of all the stress now and I think I can play better than I did against France."
Having been quizzed in Maths, Economics and German in the last few days, she is currently preparing for a test with a Spanish bent as the Netherlands face Ángel Vilda's charges on Sunday. Spain need a victory to be sure of advancing, while Jansen and Co need only avoid a four-goal loss or worse.
"We'll just play as we usually do," said Jansen. "We want to play our normal game and try to win. We don't want to concede either. Spain have good individual players and they try to play the game – not with long balls but with a positional game. Technically they're very good as well but they have to win, so maybe they'll play a bit more in attack than defence and leave us to create a few chances."
Their upcoming opponents are expecting a tough, physical contest at the Železarnica Stadium, and Jansen is certainly a tall, powerful forward, but she feels her side boast a broad range of qualities: "We're physically strong but that's not our only strength. We can play within our tactical organisation and we can also dictate the play. There are plenty of things we can do as a team, but maybe it's an advantage that we're physically strong. If the other teams say so, it probably is."
A fan of senior England international Kelly Smith – "the best player in the world" – she also thinks her side have the ability to go all the way in this tournament. "I believe we can beat anybody," she said. "We'll just have to see from game to game how far we can get."
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