Cervia was blanketed by grey skies as the 2011 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship draw took place on Thursday, but there are no dark clouds on the horizon for tournament director Stefano Balducci as he puts the finishing touches on preparations for the finals between 30 May and 11 June.
"We're honoured to be hosting this tournament, especially as it's the first time for this age group after successfully hosting the men's European Under-17 Championship in Tuscany [in 2005]," Balducci said. "All the teams congratulated us for the organisation last time and I'm sure it will be the same this time around.
"There are already good signs of hospitality here, and the start of the tournament coincides with the beginning of the tourist season, where many visitors come to the region – I'm sure the tournament will benefit from it," added the 57-year-old. "
There's always a nice atmosphere in Romagna; visitors always receive a warm welcome here and I'm sure it will be a major plus point when the tournament kicks off. All the teams will have a nice time here."
There are eight in all, with Germany, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands placed in Group B after Thursday's draw at Cervia's spectacular Club Hotel Dante. Russia, Switzerland and Belgium stand in Italy's path in the other section and Balducci predicts a competitive tournament as the Azzurrine try to repeat the "miracle" of their title triumph in 2008.
Corrado Corradini's side lost all three games in last month's annual tournament in La Manga, so expectations have been dampened. "I hope we can get to the semi-finals at the very least, because it's always good for the tournament when the host team does well," said Balducci, a former journalist who helped organise tennis' Italian Open for over a decade before joining the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in 1992.
He never strays too far from the main objective, however: increasing the profile of women's football in Italy. "This is an ambition we share with UEFA," Balducci said. "We've been putting a lot into promoting women's football. Unfortunately we're still a long way behind other major European countries and places like the United States, where there is a strong professional league. But I think this tournament can help bring people closer to women's football."
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