Belfast Telegraph

Wylie’s girls relishing shot at big hitters in U-19 finals

By Laure James

Northern Ireland have landed a derby showpiece with Scotland in the Women’s Uefa Under-19 Championship and will also face giants Spain and Germany, two of the most successful nations in this competition, in Group A.

The tournament will be the first women’s finals to be held in Northern Ireland when the games begin on August 8, and following yesterday’s draw at Belfast City Hall, teams can now prepare with the knowledge of who they’ll come up against.

Northern Ireland coach Alfie Wylie was delighted with the outcome and the fact that his girls managed to swerve the group of death, comprising holders England, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

“It was unbelievable, and quite surreal to be at the draw,” Wylie said.

“It makes you realise that when you’re in the pot with seven other teams, but they’re all of such calibre, that you’re actually in these finals.

“You always see them in the Elite Round or the qualifiers, but you’re in with several others and the big hitters are always kept apart, but now we’re surrounded by them.

“We have Germany in our group; they’re one of the most powerful and successful teams in this competition.

“The game with Scotland will be huge for us, there’s such a big emphasis on women’s football over there, they’ve qualified for their first Women’s Euros and are loving the whole buzz over there.”

Wylie’s senior men’s counterpart, Michael O’Neill, was in Belfast to conduct the draw with former Germany international Nadine Kessler, one of the most decorated female players, boasting three Champions League titles with Wolfsburg and a Fifa Ballon d’Or.

“Both of my daughters play football which has helped me develop much more of an interest in women’s football,” O’Neill said. “They’re Scottish-born though, so our loyalties will be divided for that game!

“It’s fantastic, it’s a very exciting time for women’s football in Northern Ireland and this will be a wonderful event, the work that has gone into it has been tremendous.

“The pinnacle of our senior men’s careers will be the participation in France and possibly Russia if we qualify, so to play in the finals for these girls will be the same, at this level, and hopefully it will inspire them to qualify at senior level in the future.”

He added: “We would love for everyone to get out and support not only our girls but enjoy what the other teams have to offer as well.

“I am looking forward to attending as many games as possible with my two daughters and I’ve no doubt it will be a tournament which is a resounding success.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of watching my own girls play and I was at the Women’s World Cup in Vancouver but it’s great to see our home-grown players playing against the top opposition in Europe, there will be names you see in this tournament which four or five years down the line you’ll remember.

“History tells us that any major sporting event which comes here is very well supported, and I can’t imagine this tournament will not be totally embraced by everyone. It’s an opportunity for us to show everyone what’s great about Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland’s campaign kicks off on August 8 against last year’s runners-up Spain at Windsor Park. Their second group game will be against Scotland at Mourneview Park on August 11, and their third will be against Germany at Ballymena Showgrounds on August 14.

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