Looking forward to learning on the job – that was the common feeling among the Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden coaches about Monday's opening Group B games at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in south Wales.
In a joint press conference in Swansea that was more a meeting of old friends than an opportunity to size up opponents, Marianne Miettinen, Maren Meinert, Jarl Torske and Calle Barrling agreed that the tournament presents perfect learning conditions for players and coaches alike.
Leading title holders Sweden, Barrling highlighted the value of a long run in this competition and the fund of knowledge such a campaign can provide. He said: "We had more learning experiences last year because we were at the tournament so long. Maybe that's the difference now: we may be able to use those experiences." Barrling's troops "had a tough journey to qualify" and he expects things to get "even tougher", starting against Finland in Llanelli.
Finland are at their first finals in eight years but won six qualification games out of six, leaving coach Miettinen to venture: "I think we can surprise people, like in qualifying. We were a bit lucky against Spain [Finland won 2-1] but that was when we started to believe." For Miettinen, Finland's presence here, on the back of appearing at UEFA Women's EURO 2013, shows the country's progress in developing players. "The fact we've been winning games [to qualify] shows we're doing the right stuff." Possibly too well: she lost two U19-eligible players to the Women's EURO squad.
If Miettinen is glad to be back, perhaps even so more Germany's Meinert. The record four-time champions were notable absentees in Turkey last summer, returning to the finals after top-scoring in the second qualifying round. "It will be important to have a good first match, then to get to semis to reach the FIFA Women's U-20 World Cup [in Canada in 2014]," Meinert said, expressing the same basic ambition as her peers. "It wasn't such a big surprise not to qualify last year because we played Sweden in Sweden. Maybe we realised we have to work hard to qualify and must keep developing."
The evident camaraderie between the four coaches underlined how they are colleagues as much as rivals. Barrling acknowledged their mutual dependency: "As a coach you have to develop, just as players do – we coaches talk together and the more we develop as coaches, the better it is for the game."
Group B also brings a decidedly northern European feel to an event which, three years ago, featured no Nordic team and where last season Spain finished runners-up in a markedly southern and central field. "The northern countries are always good, but I don't think they play the same way so we'll have to prepare for them differently," Meinert said.
First up for Germany in Llanelli are a young Norwegian side that scraped through qualifying as best runners-up. Their coach Jarl Torske is confident lessons have been – and will continue to be – learned. "Generally we had good qualifying matches but against England we didn't have the right attitude [losing 3-0 to risk elimination]. Whatever the opposition you have to be on your game."
The Norway boss now happily joins the quest for further education in south Wales, saying: "There is no contradiction between development and winning – if you win, you play more games and spend more time at the tournament ... hence more time to develop."
Group B fixtures
Monday: Sweden v Finland, Germany v Norway
Thursday: Sweden v Germany, Finland v Norway
Sunday: Finland v Germany, Norway v Sweden
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