Keith Boanas/ Estonian Women's National Teams/ English Colleges
Arrived back in Estonia on Thursday evening, following a twelve-hour day of travelling back from the Kuban Spring tornament in Soschi, Russia, venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
At this time of year though, it is in the area of Russia not covered by snow. So to get away from a frozen Estonia to play on grass fields and against international competition is a major factor in our continued development in Estonia.
The tournament is in its fifth year and we played the last three. Participants are invited and it is sponsored by FIFA, the RUSSIA FF and the local Region of Krasnodor. All accomodation, food and training facilities are provided free of charge, so only flights need expenditure.
Primarily for U-19 & U-20 teams, smaller nations like ourselves are allowed to utilise some U-21s also. Bearing in mind practically every other nation has a pool of players to choose from of hundreds or thousands, I have a maximum of around 30, so with a squad of 18 I did nt have many left at home.
This year's entrants were by far the strongest with the inclusion of the Asian teams North Korea and Japan, added to regular and two time winners China. Our group included Russa, North Korea and Slovakia, in their first visit. All the results were posted on the website by SheKicks .The format of the group meant that although losing 3-0 and 1 -0 to Russia and North Korea respectively, a 2-0 win over Slovakia meant we qualified as best third place team for the quarter-finals.
We were then drawn against Japan and after losing our skipper at half time when 2-0 down, we were given a lesson in technical play by a superb Japanese team and lost 7-0. Subsequently we played Turkey, who had beaten us in the last two and came out 4-2 on pens after a 2-2 draw to finally play the USA Region 1 ODP team for fifth place, We lost 1-0 to a late second half strike but for us this and the 1-0 loss to North Korea were immense defensive displays against strong teams. We eventually finished sixth, ahead of Russia and Turkey for the first time. Japan, despite all the sadness in their country, came through as tournament winners after a 1-0 final win against North Korea.
It was heart warming to see how each and every team and the local people took the Japanese to their hearts and showed deep respect to the terrible events in their homeland. The bonding and friendship between they and the US girls was amazing to see, especially when you consider history. I believe this tournament to be unique, certainly in this part of the world in the way it encourages opponents to forge new friendships, despite being ultra competative on the field.
All teams and staff stay in the same hotel and complex, an 18-story main building surrounded by meeting rooms, food hall, swimming pool and gym and other facilities called the Sputnik hotel and sports complex. The hotel also owns the three grass fields and three turf fields at a small stadium venue, a ten minute drive away. So the perfect place for this event.
I bumped into Vera Pauw, now with the RFF, who was holding a Coach-Ed seminar for women's team coaches, in conjunction with the tournament and they also use it to train and mentor female referees with a pool of around a dozen covering the games.
It is a massively beneficial tournament for all teams to get playing time in decent conditions and introduce new young players to competition. For us as coaches, we get to meet and discuss with other coaches. Hearing how the Asian countries have developed their players to such a high technical and physical level, made me extremely jealous of the facilities and resources available to them. It will be interesting to see how they fare with their senior teams in the WWC.
It's an intensive competition with a game every other day but where else can you get a guaranteed six games against high class opponents in one venue for a developing nation like Estonia? Simple answer, nowhere. It is planned to carry on until at least 2014 with the tournament and hopefully beyond, so it will already be written into next years calender certainly if i remain in Estonia. On that i have begun the last year of my three-year contract, so unsure of future after that but I will of course continue to do my job as well as I possibly can.
Not long now to the WSL and the WWC...exciting times. I keep in touch mainly through you guys with everything at home. A couple of crazy results in the FA Cup but seems the competitive match fitness of both Sunderland and Barnet proved beneficial in their respective wins over Birmingham and Lincoln, despite the star line-ups in both WSL teams.
Was shocked by Casey Stoney's move from Chelsea to Lincoln. obviously both Chelsea manager Matt Beard is a good mate and Casey and I keep in touch. So after speaking to both. I know what a tough decision it was for Casey and Matt, despite being disappointed, is proffesional enough to understand and will move on prioritising the players he has. Casey has a World Cup to prepare for and Lincoln will allow her to do that, with their set up giving her more time to train in times that suit, rather than juggling it with the other commitments she had at Chelsea. She is a Chelsea fan, so you know this was tough for her. Ironic however that both teams exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
Oh well, got to get on now. I have to start thinking about friendlies in preperation for Euro qualifiers at all ages, Happy with our draw, if we prepare well and work hard we can give every one a run for their money, including Finland. They are all nice and local for us, with Finland being a short ferry ride away, so hopefully a few fans can come over when we play there.
As ever, can I wish everyone good health. When you see events around the world it can put many of our day to day worries into perspective.