They are about to take their first steps in the finals of a major tournament but neither the Netherlands nor Ukraine are revealing any trace of nerves as they prepare to launch UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ at Turku Stadium.
The Dutch, in particular, ooze a quiet confidence, with coach Vera Pauw expressing surprise that her squad of big-stage newcomers are showing no signs of pressure with Group A about to unfold on Finnish soil. "We had a little bit of fear that the players would be nervous, but that's not the case at all," said the highly-respected trainer, who guided her charges to a play-off victory over Spain to take their place in the 12-team showpiece. "In fact, it's surprising just how relaxed the players are. But the way we have structured the training, the players do not need to be nervous. They just need to focus and concentrate on tomorrow's game."
In a similar vein, Ukraine coach Anatoliy Kutsev believes his players' sense of excitement at making their tournament bow will help them overcome any nerves. "We have been aiming for this for a long time and all of them have the desire to prove that we have not come here by accident," he said. Their defensive record suggests they will provide solid opposition too, having conceded just three goals in their ten qualifying ties, including two games against Slovenia in the play-offs.
"Ukraine like to sit back and get a lot of players behind the ball," Pauw added. "In that way they are completely different to Denmark, who are themselves completely different to Finland. The statistic does not worry us but it does show that they will be very difficult to score against. The first game is crucial because we are very much aware that if you win one and draw one then you are practically through to the next round. We cannot leave anything behind – we have to take everything out of the game."
Both coaches expect the tournament to showcase the increasing skill levels of the women's game. "The extension to 12 teams has been crucial," Pauw explained. "It has given us something to go for and it's unbelievable what has happened to us over the past four years, especially the last six months. We would not have had this development if we did not have 12 teams here." Kutsev added: "Five or seven years ago we had romantic football but nowadays the women are getting closer [to the standards] of men's football. There are no weak teams here but only a few of them can pretend to be at Germany's level."
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