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Finland have not graced the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship since 2005 but after a strong qualifying campaign and a favourable draw, coach Marianne Miettinen is confident her side can make a big impression in Wales.
Finland's return of six wins from six qualifiers, scoring 27 goals and conceding two, would have been impressive from anyone – never mind a team that have been on the periphery of the game at this level in recent years. They claimed 2-1 qualification victories against both Spain and Portugal, 2012 runners-up and semi-finalists, and Miettinen says she had an inkling this squad had promise.
"Yes, it's been eight years since Finland were last at this stage, but I think others are more surprised than we are," said the 38-year-old. "We played the first phase really well, beating Spain who were silver medallists last year. That showed us we can beat any team on our day. The team knew we had a chance and we took it. It's great to be back."
Finland's reward is a tough-looking section against four-time winners Germany, holders Sweden and perennial contenders Norway – not that a smiling Miettinen betrays any sign of fear; quite the opposite. "I'm quite happy," she insisted. "Sweden are tough, but I know them quite well, I have worked there. Norway are up in the second game, they are also tough but we can win that too.
"Germany, of course, are among the tournament favourites, really tough, but if we win the first two games we are already through to the semi-finals.
This is a great challenge and a real chance for us." The odds are arguably a little longer than they could be after several were named in the senior women's squad, depriving Miettinen – also an assistant with the A team – of a significant proportion of her first-choice lineup.
The philosophical coach sees it as more a blessing than a curse – a source of pride – though concedes the talent pool in a country of under five and a half million is not too deep. "It will probably affect us, but the team will still be good. Our strength is that we are good as a team so I'm sure we will be ready to play, even if we have a couple of our players in the A team."
The group stage draw denied Finland a reunion with compatriot and Wales boss Jarmo Matikainen, a man who played a big role in getting former HJK Helsinki stalwart Miettinen involved in the Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF). "A shame," said Miettinen. Perhaps they are being kept apart until the final? "Yes, that works for us!"
Finland kick off their campaign against holders Sweden on 19 August.
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