“We’ve taken really positive steps,” says John Griffiths as England WU19s prepare for European Championships

As the England WU19s squad made their final preparations before flying out to Lithuania for the UEFA Women’s U19s EUROs, head coach John Griffiths was kind enough to speak to FromTheSpot about the upcoming tournament and give some insight into the camp.

England are coming into this tournament in fine form, as across the two stages of qualification for the Euros, they won all six games while only conceding twice. After failing to qualify for last summer’s tournament in Belgium, Griffiths spoke on how pleased he is with his squad’s development coming into this competition and how well the preparation has gone.

“They’re shaped up really well, they’ve had some good preparation camps. We’ve got some really good balance across the squad, and towards the end of the season we have had some players who have won promotion honours, some of them have won academy honours, so there’s a good mix of winners in the group,” he revealed.

“Positionally, there’s a good blend across the group, and most importantly they’re confident in what they’re doing, their abilities, and how they’re playing at the minute. They had a really good elite round against three very tough nations in probably the hardest elite round group; they came through that task so now it’s a case of hoping to still be in the tournament on July 27th”

Despite their form coming in, England won’t be able to get complacent as they have drawn a very tough group with hosts Lithuania, Serbia, and their hardest challenge of the group, France. England’s only loss in the last twelve months came against this France side in a very close 3-2 defeat, so they are acutely aware of the threat they pose. Griffiths told FromTheSpot that it’s vital to play against high-level opposition outside of tournaments to progress the squad further.

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“France are a good team – there’s a good five, six, seven teams in this, so any team that we come up against in the tournament is going to be competitive. Playing teams like that throughout the cycle is very important, so there are sides that we class as ‘tier one’ teams. We’ve played the Netherlands, Germany, and France already this year, and that level of opponent is really important not just for now but also for future Lionesses.”

He continued: “They will meet each other as they go through the pathway: there are players like Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp who while they came through the pathway came up against Lena Oberdorf, [Daphne] van Domselaar, players like that, so it’s really important as preparation for now and for the future.“

While these players are still playing at youth level internationally, this squad is littered with talents who have already made their senior debuts, both in the Championship and the Women’s Super League. Araya Dennis, for example, spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace from Tottenham Hotspur, and played a crucial role in their promotion to the WSL. Griffiths made it clear that this exposure to senior football is so crucial in the development of these young players and spoke glowingly about the role of the loan system.

“One of the big things that we’re going after in terms of the league structures is trying to get more senior minutes for our players, be it the loan system which has worked really well for players this year. We have a number of players who have been on loan to Championship and National League level teams so that senior exposure and experience is really important to us and one of the key things we’re trying to bridge the gap in at the moment,” he explained.

“We’ve taken really positive steps this year and you can see the change; someone commented in our games against Switzerland and Portugal that it was like two senior women’s teams playing each other. As other nations have moved, so have we, and we’re trying to keep the performance gap narrow.”

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Few understand the importance of youth-level international tournaments as well as John Griffiths, having been involved in the England Women’s Youth set-up since 2014. It’s been a rite of passage for all of the current members of the senior Lionesses squad, and with the success they’ve seen in recent years, he was rightly proud of the role these experiences can play in the development of the next crop of England internationals. 

“It’s hugely important. If you look at the World Cup last year with the seniors, all 23 members of the squad went through the pathway, and that’s so important for the senior exposure that they’ve experienced tournaments at this level through the youth pathway. We’ve averaged four players per cycle who have made the senior squad in the past ten years – the last of those being Grace Clinton, Khiara Keating, and Aggie Beever-Jones who all came with us in 2022.”

Everyone at FromTheSpot wishes John and his squad good luck as they travel over to Lithuania, with their first game being at 3pm BST on 14th July against the hosts – and hopefully there’ll be another England game to dive into that evening if the Three Lions can win their EURO2024 semifinal against the Netherlands!

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