Germany’s WU17 crown under threat in Iceland
Eighteen months after Germany lifted the trophy for a record fourth time in England in December 2013, the UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship final tournament takes place in Iceland between 22 June and 4 July.
Unusually, the 2013/14 event was held in the winter, in time to determine Europe’s qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. It returns to its normal summer slot this season, with England, France, holders Germany, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Switzerland joining the Icelandic hosts in vying for the European crown.
The competition came of age in 2013/14 when for the first time the final tournament was staged away from the UEFA campus in Nyon, Switzerland. It was expanded from four to eight teams to reflect the rise in women’s youth football, but if the format and venue have changed, Germany’s pre-eminence has not.
As with the seniors, Germany are the dominant force in European football at this level, winning all four finals they have contested since the competition’s introduction in 2007/08. Two of those victories, in 2009 and 2013/14, came at the expense of Spain, who are the second most successful side with two titles. In a battle of the champions, Germany and Spain meet in Group A on 25 June. Only Poland, in summer 2013, have broken those countries’ grip on the WU17 crown.
The tournament will be played in and around Reykjavik in south-west Iceland, with three venues in the capital and three more in neighbouring Akranes, Grindavik and Kopavogur. Rejkyavik, Europe’s northernmost capital, provides the base for the finals as well as the ideal starting point to get to know this unique island nation, home to the continent’s largest glacier.
Iceland are no strangers to the UEFA European Women’s U17 Championship. In 2011 they beat Sweden en route to qualifying for the final tournament for the first time, and though they were defeated by both Germany and Spain in Switzerland – both of whom Iceland face in Group A this time – the experience was an important one.
Icelandic international Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir was in the team that reached those semi-finals and she urged the current generation to make the most of an “experience they will never forget”. She recalls: “It was frustrating to lose both games heavily, but the experience of playing big matches in a big tournament was good. Maybe we didn’t think it at the time, but it is an enormous experience to play games like that and handle the pressure.”
Two years later Viggósdóttir, still just 19, was in Iceland’s UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 squad, and she credits playing in the WU17 finals with helping prepare her for Europe’s elite. “I remember going with the seniors to EURO 2013 and feeling I had done something similar before,” she said. “That comes from experiencing it with the youth sides.”
Germany’s UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 winners would concur, with seven of them having triumphed at WU17 level. Leonie Maier and Dzsenifer Marozsán (2007), Isabelle Linden and Svenja Huth (2008), Jennifer Cramer and Luisa Wensing (2009) and Sara Däbritz (2012) all landed the junior prize. “It was the first big trophy for me,” Marozsán said of Germany’s 2007 success. “The moment you lift the trophy you don’t think about anything, you just enjoy having achieved what you dreamt of as a child. It is an indescribable feelinlg.” One that the girls of all eight squads in Iceland will be hoping to savour for themselves come 4 July.