Twelve months ago Gilles Eyquem ended his first season as France coach by winning the 2013 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship; in Norway, André Koolhof is hoping to cap his own successful start in a similar vein.
Koolhof replaced Aart Korenhoff at the Netherlands helm in August 2013 and led them to the finals at his first attempt after a challenging campaign. His young side overcame Serbia, an emerging team at this level, to round off the first stage when they were reliant on late goals. They had to find another gear in the elite round, beating Turkey 2-0 before a meeting with the Republic of Ireland.
"Ireland were very tough," Koolhof says. "They have a very complete team. They play 'kick and rush' and are very strong. They play with hearts on their sleeves for 90 minutes. It was difficult against them, but my players managed it." A goalless draw meant the Netherlands needed to beat Austria on the final day to seal progress. Two goals apiece from Jeslynn Kuijpers and Jill Roord wrapped up a 4-1 win.
Ireland also advanced, as best runners-up, though the sides avoided each other in May's final tournament draw in Oslo. The Oranje will begin their Group A campaign against Norway – "I like that," says Koolhof – then tackle free-scoring Scotland before a mouth-watering contest with Belgium, who overcame four-time champions Germany to book their place.
"We played a friendly in Belgium before the elite round and won 3-0," says the Dutch coach. "But they had an interesting match against Germany and have clearly developed well. I am interested to see what level they are at now. Overall it's a good draw for us; but for all eight teams it's a good draw. They are two very good groups."
This will be the Netherlands' fifth tilt at the final tournament, and their first since 2011 when a side including Siri Worm and Lieke Martens struggled to fulfil the potential of their run to the last four 12 months earlier. That 2010 effort remains their best showing at the finals and the youthful outlook is an obvious parallel with the current team.
Roord, in fact, could still be playing for the WU19s in 2016 and Koolhof identifies the FC Twente midfielder as one to watch. "We have a young team, but with a few very talented players. Some of them already play in the BeNe League. And we have one, Jill Roord, who is the big player, the big talent. It is marvellous to see. We have a very good team and play good, attacking football."
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