England manager Mo Marley discusses her side's remarkable resurrection in qualifying, the advantages of playing close to home and her aspirations for next month's Welsh finals.
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Mo Marley believes England have something to prove at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship and that after a remarkable qualifying campaign her side are finding their feet at just the right time.
England's hopes of making the short trip to Wales in August looked over before they had really begun in qualifying when they were stunned 5-4 by Serbia. They bounced back against Hungary, however, and a 3-0 victory over fellow finalists Norway completed "an amazing recovery" in the words of their manager. Marley, who led the team to glory in this competition in 2009, discusses the turnaround and her aspirations for the Welsh finals.
UEFA.com: What are your thoughts on the draw and the prospect of meeting France, hosts Wales and Denmark in Group A?
Mo Marley: Both groups are going to be difficult for different reasons but you probably have to say you'd want to avoid the champions, Sweden. But for us it's a case of making sure we take care of our own business, really. We've got a lot to prove because we haven't been outstanding the last couple of years.
UEFA.com: Why do you think this team had mixed results in qualifying, from the despair of the 5-4 defeat by Serbia to an incredible win on the last day?
Marley: The team we took to Norway [for second qualifying round Group 4] had an average age of around 17 years and eight months – that's a very, very young team. They'd never really played together and the back five in the first game against Serbia had about two caps between them. It's no surprise that results of that kind happen, because of the lack of exposure. To respond with two clean sheets and two wins after that, shows there's potential.
UEFA.com: What did you do between the first and second games to orchestrate such a turnaround?
Marley: Do you know what? Nothing. We just did what we've done for a long time, play the way England tries to play; we just did it a lot better. And the players took a bit more responsibility in certain areas, took pride about not conceding goals – they set that task themselves, and that is what they didn't. That was the turning point between losing the first game and an amazing recovery to qualify for the finals.
UEFA.com: How important is Nikita Parris to the team, as perhaps one of the old guard, if you can have such a thing at this level?
Marley: Nikita is a professional player in every aspect and has been in the Under-19s for a lot longer than the rest of the girls. Everyone kind of acknowledges Nikita because she scores goals, but there's a lot more to her game; she leads and defends from the front as well. But it's not just about one particular player, it's about the whole team, and the whole team have sought to improve individually, Nikita included.
UEFA.com: And finally: when you depart south Wales at the end of August, what would you be content with?
Marley: We're just happy to be here, first and foremost; it looked like we weren't going to qualify. It was important to make sure we were here, because it feels a bit more like a home tournament for us, with Wales being so close. It's not very often the players' parents and family, their club friends and people associated with them actually get to come and see them play. It's a big thing for the players.
So first and foremost we are just glad to be here, but then there is [2014 FIFA U-20 Women's] World Cup qualification at stake, so the big task is to get out of the group.
England kick off their campaign against France on 19 August.