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Bini's Bleuettes fulfil promise

Bruno Bini's France travelled to Germany and returned with the 2002/03 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship.

Coach Bruno Bini joins the French celebrations after masterminding the 2003 success
Coach Bruno Bini joins the French celebrations after masterminding the 2003 success ©Sportsfile

Holders Germany seemed favourites to retain the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship as hosts for 2002/03, but a record 36 rivals stood in their way from the outset.

As in the men's youth events, the tournament was revamped into two preliminary rounds. The first qualifying round groups were won by Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, the Republic of Ireland, 2002 semi-finalists England, Scotland and Ukraine, with unbeaten Slovakia also progressing as best runners-up.

Like in 2001/02, four group winners and three runners-up went through to the finals. Spain and England each took seven points from Group A1 to advance ahead of Ireland and Denmark. Sweden and France claimed seven and six points respectively in Group A2 to pip Switzerland and Finland.

In Group A3, Italy had the only perfect record, while the Dutch ousted Ukraine and Slovakia. As with France, a positive goal difference proved vital because although Belgium took six points in Group A4 behind Norway, their record of two goals for and two against proved detrimental to their chances.

The finals draw pitted Germany with England, Sweden and Italy in Group A and provided a memorable sequence of games. Fara Williams's last-gasp goal gave England an opening 2-1 win against Sweden, while Italy stunned Germany 2-0. Two days later Germany were out after losing 2-1 to Sweden, fow whom Nilla Fischer struck an added-time winner, while England advanced early by defeating Italy 3-1.

Departing on a high, Germany crushed England 6-0, Shelly Thompson's four goals eventually leaving her as the tournament's top scorer. The real drama, however, was in Borna, where Sweden and Italy began dead level. Sweden trailed 1-0 at the break and held a 2-1 lead for mere seconds. Hodan Siid-Ahmed's 83rd-minute goal seemed to have won it only for Guilia Domenichetti to equalise deep into stoppage time. Regulations required a penalty shoot-out, and Sweden advanced comfortably, Siid-Ahmed scoring the clincher in a 4-1 win.

In Group B, the Netherlands overcame Spain 2-1 in the opener with a last-gasp Marjan Brouwer winner, and France drew 2-2 with Norway. The Dutch then fell 2-1 to Norway as Spain beat France 3-2. Les Bleuettes ended by beating the Netherlands 2-1, but looked like they were going out behind Spain before Guro Knutsen's 85th-minute goal gave Norway a 2-1 win and France second place.

Sweden looked on their way to a semi-final victory with two first-half Fischer efforts against Norway, but goals from Stine Frantzen and, in added time, Tone Heimlund forced penalties, which they won 4-2. In the final they met France, who beat England 2-0 with goals from Cécilia Josserand and Nonna Debonne.

Bruno Bini had coached France since the first U18 tournament in 1997/98, when they lost the final. Now his team went one better, as Amélie Coquet and Lilas Traïkia struck early in each half. A host of their squad went on to win senior honours.