It has become a prerequisite for draws to conjure up a group of death, a section with little to choose between sides who must slug it out until only one or two remain standing. Over simplistic, perhaps; cliche, certainly; but on the eve of the 2010/11 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship the four Group B coaches were buying into the billing.
"I wasn't here for the draw," said Norway boss Jarl Torske, "so
when I saw the result I said 'Oh my god'. I reckon these are the best three teams here, with all respect." Indeed, his side mark their return to these finals after a one-year absence against three-time winners Germany in Monday's first round of matches. It does not get any easier: reigning European U17 champions Spain and a Netherlands side eliminated by England on penalties in the last four 12 months ago await.
If that was not enough all the teams are contending with the distraction of school exams, a balancing act even Torkse – a teacher by trade – is struggling to achieve. "They need to perform on and off the field," said the 61-year-old, whose side eliminated 2009 winners England in qualifying. "I'm impressed with how they've done so far but it's going to be a tough group. I'm sure [that between the four sides] we'll deliver some good football over the coming week, a clash of styles."
That summit of footballing philosophies was highlighted by all four coaches, with Ángel Vilda underlining his commitment to "exhibiting the philosophy of the Spanish senior men's team, to copy the style of the world and European champions." That game, all short, crisp passing and technical wizardry, is a contrast to the more direct style the Netherlands employed with some success last summer in Skopje, where they departed unbeaten.
"A lot of players were involved last year and I hope the experience helps them," said Johan van Heertum, whose charges drew 1-1 with Norway in the first qualifying round. He has made the side his own since replacing Hesterine de Reus last September while retaining a backbone that runs from centre-back Siri Worm to forwards Ellen Jansen and Lieke Martens. "I hope we've improved our style and we'll need a good team performance. It's a very difficult group, for all involved."
Germany have the added burden of expectation, particularly after three years without a title – a drought by their standards. "
Qualifying for the final tournament is never enough for Germany," said Maren Meinert, returning from maternity leave to take the helm. "But we're used to it and it's positive pressure for the players – much comes from the public, reflecting how much support we have for women's football in Germany."
It will not be easy, even to finish in the top two and grab a FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup spot. Torske perhaps sums it up best: "It'll be tough for us but it'll also be a challenge for them: they have to play Norway."
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