Having gained their grounding in international football at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, Norway stalwarts Ingvild Isaksen and Maren Mjelde urged their country's young stars to make the most of this year's finals on home soil.
The duo helped Norway reach the final of UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden last year, their title hopes ending in a 1-0 final loss to Germany, but neither have forgotten the vital tournament experience they picked up at U19 level. And with this summer's edition to be held in Norway for the first time since it was still a U18 competition in 2001, Isaksen feels certain that Jarl Torske's squad are in for a special summer.
"The U19 European championship is a really good arena for young football players, and it's something else when you are playing on your home field," the forward explained. "I would just encourage them to have fun and roll with it, enjoy the time, because you won't get it again at that level. You are with your friends, and you just have to enjoy the time being there."
"You get experience playing in tournaments," added Mjelde. "Of course the tournaments at senior level are bigger, but it's kind of the same thing: you play against really good teams, and you have to be good to go as far as possible. And yes, for me it was a really good experience to play at U19 level."
The pair went through the learning process together as well, helping Norway reach the semi-finals in 2007 before a runners-up finish the following year. In particular, Mjelde still has vivid recollections of their penalty shoot-out success against Germany in the latter tournament.
"I remember that really well, because in the semi-final against Germany I think they were so much better than us," said the versatile midfielder, who can also operate in defence. "They were leading 1-0 in the first half and I thought that they had so many chances. I thought: 'OK, this could be ugly; they could beat us by a lot of goals.'
"But then we suddenly scored a goal. I was playing then as a central defender, and I have never been so exhausted after a game as a defender. It was so hard; we played against a really good German team. But football is all about scoring goals, and we were better than them on penalties."
It was penalties that let Norway down in Sweden last year, though, as a pair of spot-kick saves from Nadine Angerer helped Germany clinch their sixth consecutive European title at senior level. The Scandinavian side's run to the final nonetheless did wonders for the women's game back home, and both Mjelde and Isaksen are hoping for a similar phenomenon this summer.
"The European Championship was a real boost in Norway, so I hope that maybe the U19 tournament will also give us a boost," commented Isaksen. "I hope that it will lift interest in women's football, and hopefully there will be big crowds at the games."
"We haven't had many competitions in Norway before," said Mjelde. "I've never played in Norway in a competition like this. It's good for the girls to play at home and feel the support of the Norwegian people."
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