Finland were selected as hosts of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ on Tuesday, and their success can in some way stand as an inspiration to the eight nations here in Switzerland at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship.
The Finns were beaten to qualification this time around by holders Russia but their U19 coach Jarmo Matikainen is at these finals as a UEFA technical observer. He punched the air when informed by uefa.com that they had got the nod to stage the 2009 senior event, and said it gave his junior team, as well as the adult squad, something special to aim at. "All the players have a distinct goal to work hard towards over the next couple of years," Matikainen told uefa.com.
He added that it was just reward for a long-term plan which included putting on a successful Women's U19 tournament in 2004, when Finland appeared in their first female European finals at any level. Although they departed in the group stage, the following year his side reached the semi-finals in Hungary, thereby qualifying for the 2006 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, and of course the seniors got to the same stage at UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™.
"We had a strategy in this millennium to organise youth tournaments - the 2001 men's European U18s, the 2003 [FIFA] U-17 World Cup, the 2004 Women's U19s. All those tournaments showed how important it is to see real top-level football and it sets the standard for player development and anything else related to football," Matikainen said. The 2005 experience in England was also vital, the senior assistant coach revealed: "One of the reasons we applied for 2009 was that we saw how great the occasion can be, and it was organised really well in England. For us in Finland, there was a powerful sign that so many fans travelled to England - we were the best supported away team."
Indeed, Football Association of Finland staff travelled to England during the recent bidding process to learn how such a tournament can be used to promote women's and girl's football - participation in which is booming in the 2005 host nation. "They made the best of the tournament in that sense," Matikainen said, adding that the benefits should not just apply to the ladies. "We always look at the bigger picture - men's, boys', girls' and women's football. It doesn't make any difference if it is the women's or the men's game as long as it has a positive effect for football."
However, there is hard work ahead, not just for those players who will begin preparing for the 2009 finals. "It is a challenge, but it is always positive to be under pressure if you want to develop," Matikainen said. "It's a good thing to be in the spotlight and show the developments you are making and we want to make the best of it."
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