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Dani Bird is in an optimistic mood after learning who England will face in the UEFA Under-19 Championships in Hungary during the summer. England will be up against France, Scotland and Russia as they attempt to build on their record of having reached the semi finals in two of the previous three tournaments.
"It's a really good draw for us," Dani told Women's Soccer Scene. "We are not going there to make up the numbers, we're going there to try and win the trophy. It is an open tournament where anything can happen, and that's what we will be going in thinking."
France knocked England out in the semi finals two years ago and eliminated the Lionesses at the second qualifying stage last season, and Dani feels that they will be the toughest opponents in the group. "France have a lot of players who are experienced at this level," she says. "We have played them before and know what they can do but it will be a big challenge as they have quick, tough players. It's our third chance against them and hopefully it will be third time lucky, they are strong but we are a lot stronger this time.
"Playing against Scotland is always a tough game, I faced them when I was with the under-17s and they were really physical matches. I don't know too much about Russia as I have never played them but it will be hard as everyone wants to beat England, especially Scotland!" Dani herself has had an outstanding season at under-19 level and her goals have played a large part in helping England qualify for the Finals. A goal in the recent friendly against Sweden has taken her tally to seven in eight internationals. "I'm on a bit of a streak at the moment!" she laughs. "It's just a case of being in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, it will continue.
"The squad has been quite settled this season, after a lot of younger players were given a chance a year ago. We've gelled together well in that time and work hard and play for each other, and we have a lot of strong characters. Fern Whelan came in during the season and has played really well, and Amy Kane has been very strong for us in the middle."
In recent times, a number of young players have progressed from under-19 to senior level and Dani, a student at Loughborough, has been inspired by this. "Being with people like Karen Carney and seeing her move into the seniors and play for the full England team really encourages me and the others," she says. "I would love to follow in her footsteps get into the full side."
One extra incentive for all the teams involved is qualification for the FIFA Under-19 World Championships for the four semi finalists. "World Cup qualification is a massive incentive,"admits Dani. "It is everyone's dream, and I would love to play in a World Cup."
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