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France, England, Wales, Denmark: all to play for

There were more questions than answers as the Group A rivals weighed up their hopes and fears ahead of Wales's maiden finals, though the aim of a semi-final place united them.

Mo Marley, Søren Randa-Boldt, Jarmo Matikainen and Gilles Eyquem (left to right) pose with the trophy
Mo Marley, Søren Randa-Boldt, Jarmo Matikainen and Gilles Eyquem (left to right) pose with the trophy ©Sportsfile

A sense of the unknown dominated as the Group A hopefuls discussed their UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship ambitions: What difference will experience make for Denmark? Are France's young side ready? What will the home crowd do for Wales? And which England team will turn up?

For Wales, perhaps, the next fortnight is particularly uncharted territory. Organisationally, it is the first UEFA final tournament the principality has hosted, while on the pitch they will become the 24th team to grace the finals when they kick off against Denmark in Llanelli on Monday. Manager Jarmo Matikainen spoke of honour and pride, but he is more focused on the tough challenge ahead.

"We are in extremely distinguished company with three past [U18 or U19] champions," said the 53-year-old, who led his native Finland on home turf in 2004. "Football-wise, it's a massive task. We are looking forward to it: we have an opportunity to test ourselves. From being with Finland in 2004, I know that the committed and passionate players in our team will want to do well in front of the home crowd. We may need to calm them down."

Søren Randa-Boldt envisages no such problems with a Denmark squad containing eight survivors of the party that reached the last four 12 months ago. "We have a good team this season, my best in five years as coach," he said. "We have many talented players who have played senior football for one or two years and only four are without tournament experience." That nous underpinned their qualifying campaign, when eight goals from Camilla Andersen helped Denmark to six wins out of six.

It was the kind of progress England could only envy. The 2009 champions' challenge looked to be over almost before it had begun when they lost their opening second qualifying round fixture 5-4 to Serbia (they, like France, were given a bye through the first stage). "We felt we had one foot out of the door after our first game," admitted manager Mo Marley.

They prised it back open with victory over Hungary before a 3-0 triumph against fellow finalists Norway blasted it off its hinges. "Maybe that reflected our inexperience," Marley said before turning attention to Wales. "We're ambitious, we want to qualify for the [FIFA U-20 Women's] World Cup, but based on our performances and our players it may be a question of luck. We hope we can deliver when it counts."

That is something France know all about, as a squad boosted by several of the side that won the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in October return to this stage for the first time since 2010. "We have a good group of girls," said Gilles Eyquem, just completing his first year as a women's coach. "Like the rest of the teams here, we hope to reach the semis. We'd like to say we're more ambitious still, but it's going to be a quality competition, with lots of questions." On Monday we will begin to hear answers.

Group A fixtures
Monday: Wales v Denmark, England v France
Thursday: Wales v England, Denmark v France
Sunday: Denmark v England, France v Wales

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