England are aiming to repeat their 2009 feat of winning the Women's U19 title without conceding a goal but must overcome an irrepressible France side with major final know-how.
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England's film choice for a team outing on Thursday was quite appropriate given how they have overcome their initial inexperience to reach the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship final in south-west Wales. Yet if the movie in question, Grown Ups 2, provided less than compelling viewing, Mo Marley's side's attempt to beat France in Llanelli on Saturday certainly should do.
Marley believes her team grew up in footballing terms following a qualifying defeat in April, but their ensuing run of six clean sheets will be imperilled by Gilles Eyquem's France squad, containing seven of last year's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup winners. "We are ready," declared Eyquem, seeking to end his first season in charge with a trophy. "We cannot go into a final without being ready."
Les Bleuettes are aiming for their third Women's U19 crown after victories in 2003 and 2010 and have considerable final tournament know-how. Their U-17 World Cup contingent – headed by two-goal semi-final match winner Kadidiatou Diani, No10 Sandie Toletti and captain Griedge M'Bock Bathy, who is suspended for the showpiece – also got to last summer's European U17 final. Moreover, the squad's 1994 generation contested the same U17 decider in 2011, though on each occasion they lost.
Wednesday's 2-1 last-four triumph over Germany has reinforced their case to go one better at Parc y Scarlets. "We saw a team who, after a moment of apprehension about Germany, showed their quality – in possession, technical ability, team cohesion – and also great mental strength," Eyquem pointed out. "We just needed the girls to recognise this quality themselves."
For Marley, the beauty of England's campaign has been their mature response to a 5-4 defeat by Serbia on second qualifying round day one – their own eureka moment. "We said afterwards, 'If you're going to be competitive you've got to be hard to beat.'" Her team have since won five and drawn one – the championship-opening stalemate with France – topping Group A and thrashing Finland 4-0 in the semis. "The players have surprised us because they keep turning in performances with belief, resilience and confidence," said Marley. "After turning a 5-4 result around, I think they think they can do anything. They think they're unbreakable."
Eyquem confesses that England's steely approach is "not necessarily the type of game that helps ours, with so much physical impact and tackles. They like to show their strength and above all they defend really, really well. We will have to show self-sacrifice and cause them the problems we failed to last week."
His opposite number is preparing for her fourth final in seven years. It augurs well that England were champions in 2009 without conceding, though according to Marley this past fortnight evokes more their 2007 effort when "a new and inexperienced group" finished second – "performing and delivering above expectations".
She explained: "We got a result against France with an inexperienced team and have just grown in strength in every aspect. We have a longer-passing option as well as a shorter-passing one. We've got a variety which great teams need. We just hope it can continue against a really strong French team."