Italy coach Corrado Corradini believes the "mental block" posed by his side's opening Group A encounter with Russia is the greatest obstacle facing his side as they come to terms with the weight of responsibility being UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship hosts brings.
Having masterminded the Azzurine's surprise triumph in 2008, Corradini knows what it takes to conquer Europe, but his pre-match observations struck a cautious note ahead of Monday's opening fixture with Russia, revealing the hefty burden of expectation felt by the hosts. "There is certainly more pressure on us," he said. "Many people have worked hard to make this tournament happen and we don't want to let anyone down. We have a good squad but so do the other teams and our task is very difficult. We must be at our very best."
Of the other sides in the group – Russia, Belgium and Switzerland – it is the Swiss, who defeated Italy 3-0 in the second qualifying round in 2009, who are best known to Corradini. Yet the 66-year-old believes his side must first overcome themselves. "In the first match you have a mental block," explained Corradini, whose side lost all three matches at March's La Manga tournament. "
My team talk will be essential because the girls feel an incredible amount of responsibility and pressure. That is enemy No1. As for the rest, we're a technical and physical match for anyone."
Russia also have cause for optimism after encouraging friendlies at home and in China, although coach Aleksandr Shagov was measured in his assessment. "We're delighted to be among Europe's top eight for the first time since 2006," he said. "Playing the hosts first we can compare how our standard has improved. Our aim used to be reaching the semi-finals. Now we hope to give a good performance."
For Switzerland coach Yannick Schwery just getting this far was "a great success", though he is keen to stress his players, who beat Czech Republic 4-1 to reach the finals, are here on merit. "We'll not analyse our opponents," he said. "We will just worry about ourselves. Everyone was surprised when we qualified and Sweden didn't, but that was when I said to my girls: 'Believe in yourselves, anything is possible'."
Belief is not something Switzerland's first opponents, Belgium, will be short of if Jos Opdebeeck has anything to do with it. Although making just their second finals appearance, the Red Devils' assistant coach vowed that his side would sweep all before them. "You were all surprised we qualified but
we can spring another surprise by beating Russia – certain; Switzerland – there is no doubt about it; and Italy – well, we're their guests so we will arrange it!"
Opdebeeck lit up the press conference with his amusing observations, refuting any suggestion that Belgium, who qualified as best runners-up, were underdogs. "Everyone is fit and we have nothing to lose. We are here to learn but we are also here to win, otherwise we might as well stay at home."
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