The UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship finals bring their own challenges, but the bar was set high for Dutch winger Jeslynn Kuijpers.
Kuijpers faced a race against time to recover from an ankle injury to join the squad in Norway but her quality, pace and technical ability have been a feature of the Netherlands' play throughout the group stage. "I wasn't really as fit as the rest arriving here," she admitted. "I'm very happy to have regained fitness so quickly, and my pace is back."
The Netherlands defeated already-eliminated Belgium 1-0 on Monday and, despite soaring temperatures, Kuijpers and her team-mates showed impressive energy levels. "The fact I was able to keep running in that heat surprised everybody, especially myself," said the PSV/FC Eindoven starlet. "It just feels so good to be playing again."
Coach André Koolhof says her return to form is far from a surprise. "She was one of the best players [against Belgium], and I know her strengths. She just kept on going and making the runs, showing she can be extremely dangerous, all the time."
The tournament steps up a notch on Thursday when the Netherlands face the Republic of Ireland in their semi-final in Mjondalen. Having played out a 0-0 draw with the teams met in April's elite round, Kuijpers is keen to see what the finals debutants can produce in Norway after they won three out of three in Group B.
"We know how they play, although they know our strengths too, so it could go either way," said the 19-year-old, who scored five goals in six qualifiers en route to Norway. "We know they are very strong in the tackle and with marking. Our objective is to reach the final, though, and to do that we'll have to give it our all."
The Dutch have never won this tournament, their best performance a semi-final appearance in 2010. Kuijpers does not need telling that the stakes are high. "We know that we have a very talented group because we have been playing with each other for several years, but until now we always came up just a little bit short.
"Everything has gone well for us so far, though. It would mean so much to get to the final. We're feeling positive, and we know we have the capacity to go all the way."
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