Mo Marley's U19s start their European Championship campaign against Scotland tonight.
The coaches of the four nations that will contest UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship Group B expressed their delight at qualifying for the Hungary finals - with progress to the knockout stages set to bring with it an added bonus.
England, France and Scotland are all attempting to secure one of four European berths at the 2006 FIFA U20 Women's World Championship which are available to the semi-finalists here, with fellow challengers Russia already assured of their place as hosts. The French open their campaign against the Russians in Andrashida today before British bragging rights are placed on the line in Zalaegerszeg a couple of hours later.
The Russia coach Valentin Grishin quashed suggestions that he will use this competition as a platform for next year's bid for global glory, saying at the pre-tournament conference: "We're not thinking ahead to the World Cup yet and will only do so when the time comes - for now all our concentration is on the European Championship and that's our most important task."
Russia reached the last four last season, only to succumb 8-0 to a rampant Germany side that smashed all final tournament records before losing the final 2-1 to Spain. "Much of the squad which reached the semi-finals last season are still involved," Grishin said. "Results have been good and we hope for a good performance here. All the teams which qualified deserved to do so and the strongest team will win the competition."
France did just that in 2003, with victorious coach Bruno Bini standing down to be replaced by one his assistants, Stéphane Pilard, last summer. "Like the other teams we're very happy to be here," Pilard said. "We are really ambitious and hope to at least qualify for the semi-finals which would open the doors to the world championship. Once we have reached that stage, we hope to go on and win the competition and become European champions. However, it's going to be a hard-fought competition."
Three of the 18-player France squad featured recently at UEFA Women's Euro 2005 along with English teenagers Eniola Aluko and Karen Carney. England coach Mo Marley said of the duo's selection: "It's crucial in their individual development, they're both only 17, and it's about them getting as much experience as they can at this level as there's less pressure and expectation. They also have an opportunity to share the experience of a major Euro and the lessons they have learned with the younger players."
Aluko and Carney will be conspiring to get England off to a winning start against tournament newcomers Scotland as football's oldest rivalry resumes. "It's a great measure playing against England," said Scotland's Tony Gervaise. "They're ahead of us on paper but football's played on the field and we're catching up. It doesn't matter what level the game is played at, Scotland-England is always special."
Gervaise added: "It's the first time we've qualified for a finals - because of that we see the players as achievers already. It will be a huge learning curve and we're looking forward to the challenge. We're confident, not over-confident, as we respect who we're playing, but at the same time the bonus of it being a qualifying stage for the world championship is a massive motivation for our squad."
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