A tournament ambassador and a former world-champion kick-boxer may initially appear an unlikely combination, but Wales duo Alice Evans and Lauren Price are just that, and they came close to frustrating Denmark on the opening day of the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship.
Goalkeeper Evans was the last line of a defence well-marshalled by captain Price, and the 1-0 defeat failed to take the shine off what was an incredible experience for the proud Welsh youngsters. "I was pleased with our performance, we did really well," Evans told UEFA.com, her sentiments echoed by Price, who added, "We're really disappointed we didn't take at least a draw, but we have to take that performance forward now for the remainder of the tournament."
But while the result will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, the occasion will not be. "I felt very proud to be out there singing the national anthem," said a beaming Evans. "It was something I've dreamt about for a long time." As for Price, a sporting veteran having fought her way around the kick-boxing world, the focus remained firmly on the challenge ahead. "We all had so many friends and family in the crowd, and it was amazing to walk out and experience such a welcome. It could have worked against us, but we played the game, not the occasion."
Evans' preparations followed a very different path to the rest of her team-mates when she was appointed as one of the tournament ambassadors by the Football Association of Wales back in January. "It was an amazing feeling to be appointed," she said. "It was a lot of hard work, but getting that role was incredible. I've spent the last few months visiting different events, making school visits and other initiatives. A large part of my remit was to promote the tournament, and judging by the opening day, it appears to have worked.
"One thing that impressed me was seeing how the different coaches that I met involved the young girls, and really pushed towards making the training sessions enjoyable. We did coaching drills specifically to promote the fun side of football, to get more girls interested. There are a lot more opportunities for young girls now, and the introduction of the Women's Welsh Premier League is a significant part of this. In addition, the international setup with Wales is so much more professional. Everything has come a long, long way since I started."
Price believes there is still further to go, too, and is in no doubt about how important hosting the tournament will be for aspiring young girls in Wales. "There were so many young girls in the crowd at the opening game wearing their own club's colours, and they will be inspired from watching the tournament and seeing exactly where football can take them. Hopefully they will take their memories of this tournament into their own football careers. It's a massive boost for women's football in Wales."
Evans agrees, saying: "When I was young I only had male footballing role models like David Beckham and Ryan Giggs; hopefully that will change now as the women's game becomes more high profile. More press coverage and an increased awareness and recognition of what we are achieving would be a huge. If I was a kid now, I would have female role models. It's crazy to think that some girls might even be looking up to us after this tournament." Victory over England on Thursday would certainly help.
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