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Former Wales, Arsenal FC and Celtic FC striker John Hartson says the Football Association of Wales (FAW) will do the country proud in the second half of August when it stages the 2013 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship.
"It's Wales's first time hosting a tournament like this and they will do a great job," he said. "Hosting the tournament means a lot. It's a really good benchmark for Wales and I'm sure they will do a terrific job. I think women's football is thriving and they will get young girls coming and supporting them. Hopefully it will really influence a lot of young girls to get into football."
Hartson hopes his own 14-year-old daughter, who has so far resisted joining the family business (his son is on the books at Swansea City AFC), takes notice. By that age her father was already an international having made his Welsh bow for the U14s. He played through the various age groups – Hartson is one of only four players to score a hat-trick for the U21s – before enjoying his senior debut in 1995.
"It was out in Bulgaria and we lost 3-1 with the great Hristo Stoichkov playing," recalled the 38-year-old, who retired in 2008. "Playing for your country is the pinnacle and every time I put on that red shirt, I felt the responsibility of taking that No9 off the likes of Ian Rush, John Charles, Mark Hughes and Dean Saunders. Every time you play for your country it's a fantastic honour."
Up to 144 youngsters will experience that privilege themselves in south-west Wales between 19 and 31 August. What advice does he have for them? What would he tell a 19-year-old John Hartson? "I would tell him to work hard, keep his head down, never be afraid to show your true colours, don't have any regrets, don't leave anything out there on the pitch.
Come in, give your maximum and, ultimately, if you're good enough you'll come through."
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