As Wales prepare to host their first continental final tournament in the shape of August's 2012/13 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, the country's national women's coach Jarmo Matikainen is relishing the prospect of being at the heart of the action.
Not only is the Finn, who leads the women's senior and U17 squads as well as the U19s, excited about the development prospects the tournament will bring for Welsh women's football; he is also hopeful his side can make home advantage count. It will be a big ask of a team that fell at the second qualifying round stage the last two seasons, but the Football Association of Wales (FAW) has worked hard to raise public awareness of the event, ensuring a sizeable vocal support as the country makes history.
"It is a big thing for Welsh football in general because we haven't hosted a major tournament at youth or senior level and hopefully this will not be the last," said Matikainen. "I hope home advantage helps. That's what we are working on with the FA – that we get as many young girls, parents and coaches in the stands and encourage everyone to get involved with the tournament.
"We are working very closely with our clubs and schools, and making sure everyone is aware of when the tournament is. We have played a number of games in Cardiff and the crowds were really good. That was a real eye-opener to show how big the women's game is in Wales."
With the game developing fast, the 52-year-old former midfielder wants the competition to act as a springboard to increased participation, and herald higher standards for all age groups at international level. "I think it is very important for the players' development, and at the same time from the coaching point of view, that we take everything out of the tournament," he said.
"We need to increase the awareness, show people how demanding the women's game is and encourage them to get involved. It is about the development – part of that is to work on that winning mentality. We are a small nation but to develop and improve we need that winning mentality and that's what we try to instil in all our players and teams."
The championship may leave a lasting legacy, yet in the short term Matikainen is eager for the Wales team to enjoy the experience as hosts. "The whole tournament is going to be tough, physically and mentally, but at the same time they understand that they can still enjoy playing. Everyone at this level will have pressure, but to be able to perform and enjoy the tournament regardless of that pressure is the most important thing."
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