England's young side departed the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship after three defeats from three but, says stand-in coach Brent Hills, they will be stronger for the experience.
With next month's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup looming large, England sent an experimental squad to Norway. Between them, the 18 players had made a solitary start in qualifying and even the coach was different – Hills took a break from his job as the Football Association's head of women's elite development to take the reins. Three losses does not make for good reading yet with all but one member of the England side still eligible next year, the future is bright.
"If they don't go away and work hard, they're foolish," said Hills. "In all three games they've shown that they can play at this level. We just didn't have the experience and the guile to finish it off. We can look forward to next year and I can look ahead to the seniors. What I'm looking at is ensuring a steady stream of players gets into the senior team. Experiences like this can only help."
Monday in particular provided a great learning platform as for almost an hour England were more than a match for Spain, Hills' tip for the trophy in Norway. "For us to be better than them in the first half I can't be displeased," he said. "It was 32C and that's great, because when they go on to other finals they're always played in the heat. So get used to it. That's what you have to deal with so deal with it. And I thought we did."
England's fluid shape and interchanging of positions was notable, causing Spain real problems. "We say to our players that they have to defend in shape, not position – otherwise you get someone on the right wing having to run back 80 yards into position. That doesn't make sense. It also means you get more of a feeling of other positions, so you think: 'I shouldn't play that sort of pass and now I know because I was on the end of it.'"
In the end, Spain's more assured touch in and around the penalty box made the difference. Like with the games against the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, England's youngsters faded in the second half – but they will be back. "It's been a great tournament, brilliantly organised, a lovely place to come," concluded Hills. "It's just sad that we won't be here next week. But the sun will still come up tomorrow."
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