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Talking points

Talking points
Sweden warm-up ahead of their match against Denmark ©Sportsfile

Talking points

All-round approach to tournament preparation

You don't have much time in your preparation but the development of the teams is spread out over the whole season
Hesterine de Reus

Coming soon after the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, UEFA's technical team at this final tournament in Israel noted similarities between senior teams and their youth counterparts in terms of their style of play. More significant still, perhaps, were the rising standards of the non-technical aspects of the game with an emphasis on both physical and psychological preparation in evidence.

Physical training and conditioning was on the agenda of each of the eight head coaches and their support teams at the finals and it was carried out in the framework of understanding the background of the individual players and what regimes would best optimise their talents on the field.

"You don't have much time in your preparation but the development of the teams is spread out over the whole season," remarked UEFA technical observer Hesterine de Reus. "You have players with totally different backgrounds as well, with some playing in the top leagues and some linked to top clubs but not playing; they arrive in a totally different physical condition and the diversity at this age is enormous. But all of the countries have shown the importance of physical preparation."

Putting in the groundwork before the finals not only better equipped the teams to play in hot and humid conditions but also shaped the players for the rigours of national team football, one of the aims of youth competition.

Germany coach Maren Meinert looks principally for players who can supplement technical ability with both speed and endurance when suggesting graduations to the senior squad, while Norway took a fitness coach on their visits to players at clubs in order to follow their 'three S' programme (speed, strength and skills) and Denmark analysed the data from players' watches on a weekly basis.

From an endurance perspective, the dedication to physical development was having an effect. For the first time since 2010 in the Women's Under-19s, goals in the first half (24) outstripped those registered after the break (15). Contextualising that information with the bridging of the gap in quality between the elite and developing teams, indicates a big impact in the physical level of the players on show.


Stina Blackstenius celebrates

It also had an impact on the way that sides strategically approached their matches. Sweden gave displays of physical strength in attack through their record-breaking forward Stina Blackstenius but more of a trend for the tournament was the pressure on space rather than the ball when the opponent was in possession, forcing a direct pass in order to trust in the aerial prowess of central defenders to clear any danger.

"The final had two contrasting styles," noted UEFA technical observer Hope Powell. "Sweden have generally been power and physicality, and Spain highly technical. If I look at the game, there has to be a balance between the two. Some of the teams have obviously focused on the physical aspect and being able to last five games of 90 minutes under these conditions and some teams go the other way, but if you bring the two together then it bodes well for a winning team."

Sweden's long-standing coach Calle Barrling topped up the physical elements with some psychological training geared towards the players "being present" and well prepared mentally for the challenges ahead – also believing that strategic insight into opponents has grown in value. "One of the improvements in the standard has come through analysis," he said.

"Looking at the opponents makes the game more interesting and means that we learn a lot when we have these matches. The game at this level is better technically yet the difference isn't easily seen from one year to the next but in details like this."


Nuria Garrote and Anissa Lahmari

Sharing the field

The UEFA technical team were keen to note the extent to which the teams present in Israel trained and played along with their male counterparts at this stage of their development, marking that as an important phase in their progress both physically and technically.

"Some of my players train with the boys but the preference of my federation is to be all-girls above the age of 15," said Denmark coach Søren Randa-Boldt. "It's not something that we can instruct centrally as it goes through the regional authorities. Sometimes we see that having less of a formal structure means that teams at this level can train with boys for longer and get the strength that goes with that, like we saw from Serbia in Turkey in 2012."

The gender divide was an interesting topic for discussion in Israel, and something which had been less regulated when both Powell and de Reus were shaping their own careers in football.

"It's an important part of a player's development," commented Powell. "It's interesting to see the different approaches of countries and their football structure when it comes to making players ready for high-level competition when it comes to mixed gender preparation."

©David Catry

Sweden No1 Zecira Musovic missed out on Israel

Finding the balance of development

The rising profile of women's football around Europe suggested a new layer of difficulty for coaches when it came to squad selection. While some of those present in Israel enjoyed an excellent relationship with clubs in terms of player release, there was an overwhelming sense that the development of the women's sport at club level was making such releases more problematic.

As well as the growing stature of the UEFA Women's Champions League, exposure of domestic national championships, the subsequent pressure on club coaches, and associated marketing needs meant that in some instances, players were required to stay with their employers. Unlike the qualifying and elite rounds of the Women's Under-19s in 2014/15, the final tournament was played outside the FIFA international release window.

"From the start of the year, I like to have the big overview of the demands on the players and to take them for the elite round and the final tournament because those are the most important times," said Meinert, who has a colleague coordinating those release times with the schools concerned. "It's a balance because I understand that the clubs pay the players and their coach needs to win the next match. The national team develops players and both sides should be happy with what the other brings."

The change in the dynamic between club and country meant that in some cases, coaching teams were making their preparations without the full knowledge of which players would be available to them owing to other commitments. "At a crucial stage in a player's career, participation in tournaments like this is really important in preparing footballers for the next stage in their career, both for club and country," remarked de Reus.