Luis Cortes: "If we want to prepare the team well for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, we have to play the upcoming matches at the same level as the official ones."

The head coach of the national women's national team of Ukraine Luis Cortes spoke to reporters at the beginning of the training camp of blue and yellow, during which the team will participate in the international tournament Turkish Women's Cup 2022 and prepare for the April 2023 World Cup qualifiers.

- Luis, congratulations on returning to Ukraine! How is your mood and what about the local weather in February compared to Spanish?

- Everything is fine, I'm happy to be here again. I am in a very good mood, because in recent days I have been waiting for the opportunity to return to Ukraine. I hope my visit will help to prepare the team well, to see many players. We called up a lot of players, and it would be useful to look at the capabilities of different players in specific situations. As for the weather, it is not very different from the one I am used to in Spain. I thought it would snow in Ukraine, but the weather is good here.

- Did all the girls pass the COVID-19 tests?

- All the girls who received the call are healthy. The situation is definitely better than in November, when we lost four or five players at once due to COVID-19. The team is ready to play three matches, which are very important for us. We want to build a better team, and these fights will be crucial to determine the game identity and further progress. 

- What can you say about the rivals of the national team of Ukraine in the Turkish Women's Cup 2022?

- We will play with the teams of Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Bulgaria. Of all the opponents, I am best acquainted with the Venezuelan national team, as it consists of girls who play in the Spanish championship. Venezuela is a typical South American team that plays well in short passes, acts well under pressure and can impose a struggle. But our team knows how to open up space and use these situations to their advantage, so I'm looking forward to a good match. The Uzbek national team has several important players. Analytical reports show that they profess a different kind of football - more direct and counter-attacking. Bulgaria is a strong team and we will have to make every effort to win all the matches.

- In 2018, the national team of Ukraine has already played in the Turkish Women's Cup 2022 and won bronze. Do you aim to surpass this result in this year's competition?

- We will fight for victory in this tournament. If we want to prepare the team well for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, we have to play the upcoming matches at the same level as the official ones. This is the best way to prepare for difficult qualifying matches. 

- You have been leading the women's national team of Ukraine for four months now. Tell us about your emotions from working with the blue and yellows and staying in Ukraine in general.

- I started coaching the team in November, and our coaching staff had almost no time to fully prepare for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers. It is impossible to learn about the abilities of each of the players in such a short period of time. Now everything is different. Of course, there is still a winter break in Ukraine, and the players do not play in their clubs, but we managed to watch a lot of previous games this season, so we already know our team much better and understand what it is capable of. This makes our task easier - to make the team better and stronger.

As for the situation in Ukraine, I sincerely want to wish Ukrainians all the best. Ukraine is going through difficult times now, but I am sure that everything will be fine.

- In addition to coaching, you are also involved in the development of women's football in the country. What area of ​​responsibility did the UAF place on you in this role?

- The UAF Women's Football Committee is working hard to develop women's football in the country. I will work with the association so that together we can take women's football to a new level. At the moment I am trying to understand how everything is organized here. Because if you want to build something better, you have to understand how it works now. I already had experience in developing women's football projects in Catalonia. As soon as I understand how everything works here, and I will have enough information about it, we will be able to build something special here and involve as many girls as possible in the game. This is our main goal. The more girls play football in the country, the more competitive it will be in the future.

- You called up a team of 30 football players, and among them there are both debutantes and those who have not played for the national team for a long time. Why did you decide to invite them to this meeting?

- We called them because we want to give the opportunity to play as many girls as possible. As a national team coach, you see players who play in different scenarios, clubs, leagues and levels in general. And the best way to understand whether a football player is ready to play for the national team is to look at her game in the conditions of the national team. We called up several players who support the U-19 team, because it is important for them. They need to feel that they are doing well at the youth level and have a chance to gain a foothold in the main team. Game practice is important for them, and for us, in turn, it is important to see their real level. 

- Does the national team of Ukraine have a chance to get to the playoffs of the 2023 World Cup?

- So. If we win in Scotland, Hungary and the Faroe Islands, Ukraine will really qualify for the playoffs. You have to be realistic, beating Spain away will be a daunting task, but given the performances of the girls in matches against Scotland, Hungary and the Faroe Islands, our team has all the prerequisites for this. In addition, we must understand that if we succeed in the playoffs, we will have very strong opponents. Of course, I am only at the helm of the team for four months, and the team needs time, but we will do everything possible to achieve this goal. 

- Do you think that the time left before the April matches with Scotland and Hungary should be enough for you?

- It would be better to train the team every day for three months, but you need to start from what you have. At the upcoming training camp for the whole team - players, coaching staff, staff - hard work awaits. We all need to understand how we can become a better team. And we will move intensively in this direction.

- Some call you Pep Guardiola in women's football. How do you like this comparison?

- This is very special for me, because Guardiola is one of the best coaches in the history of football. If anyone compares us, it is a great honor for me. What do we have in common? I think it's an understanding of football and what kind of game our teams have to show to win. Every coach works with a team to make it win. Our teams play not only to please the fans. Of course, it is better when you can combine these factors, but the most important thing in football is victory. I think we have a lot in common with Guardiola - in the way we understand football, in the style of playing the game. But, despite this, each coach has his own vision. I hope to learn a lot from Guardiola and become a coach of the same quality as him.

- What kind of game would you like to see in the performance of the national team of Ukraine?

- This is a good question that some people have been asking me in recent months. About the style of play, about my ideas and whether it is possible to implement them in the national team of Ukraine. I think so. My ideas are well suited for this team. And we must strive for their realization. For example, ball control. If you own the ball, you can control the game. And we need to improve a lot of things, because some of our players are not used to this style. But we have to convince everyone on the national team that this is the best way to win matches. I am not here for people to have fun, but for victories. And I am convinced that this is the best way to win. 

As for the game in defense, we will need to learn to press and turn the ball as soon as possible, because as soon as you take the ball, you return to control the game. If you control the game, you can do anything. I think that in November the players understood my ideas. In the match against Scotland, we mostly defended, but in some cases my ideas worked. We had a bad first half against Hungary, but in the second half the team showed that it will be able to implement our achievements in future games. 

- Alexia Putelias from "Barcelona" won the "Golden Ball" in 2021. Is there anyone in the national team of Ukraine who has the potential to follow the path of this football player?

- Our team has good potential. But Alexia is a special footballer. I don't think there are two or three similar Alexis in world football. The way Putelias understands football is incredible. Four or five years ago, she did not even get into the starting lineup of Barcelona every time. She worked very hard to become the best football player in the world. So I am convinced that nothing is impossible. If you work, develop and want to be among the best - you can become such a player. 

The national team of Ukraine has a lot of talented players, footballers who strive to become better. And I'm here to make the best versions of these players. Maybe not right now, but in the coming months. But for that, they have to work hard to be better today than they were yesterday.

- Tell us in detail about the plans of the national team to stay in Turkey. 

- We have a lot of work to do. On the first day of the meeting we will have one training session, the next day - two. Since we called up 30 players at once, those who do not play will have morning training on match days. Therefore, each day the team will train in one or two sessions. We have also prepared a series of video sessions to show the girls in which components we need to develop our game.

The squad of the national women's team of Ukraine

Goalkeepers: Iryna Sanina (Kolos Kovalivka), Daryna Bondarchuk, Kateryna Samson (both WFC Kharkiv-2).

Defenders: Lyubov Shmatko, Anna Petryk, Olha Basanska, Solomiya Kupyak, Anastasiya Voronina (all - WFC Kharkiv-1), Kateryna Korsun, Iryna Podolska (both - WFC Kharkiv-2), Dariya Kravets (Fiorentina, Italy), Tetyana Romanenko (Reims, France).

Midfielders: Nadiya Khavanska, Yuliya Shevchuk, Dariya Apanashchenko (all - WFC Kharkiv-1), Natiya Pantsulaya, Tetyana Kytaeva, Iryna Kotyash, Yana Malakhova (all - WFC Kharkiv-2), Iryna Kochneva, Tamila Khimich (both - Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih), Khrystyna Pereviznyk, Victoriya Hiryn (both Ladomyr Volodymyr-Volynskyi), Nicole Kozlova (Koge, Denmark), Yuliya Khrystyuk (Old Dominion University, USA).

Forwards: Nadiya Kunina (Linköping, Sweden), Inna Hlushchenko (Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih), Olha Ovdiychuk (WFC Kharkiv-1), Roksolana Kravchuk, Yana Kalinina (both WFC Kharkiv-2).

It should be noted that for the first time two young players - Solomiya Kupyak and Inna Hlushchenko - were called up to the national team. Kateryna Samson and Tetyana Romanenko also return to the main team after a long break.

The rivals of the blue-yellows in the tournament will be the teams of Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Bulgaria. All matches of the Turkish Women's Cup 2022 will take place on the football fields of Goldcity Sport Complex, located in the suburbs of Alanya (Turkey).

Match fixtures of Turkish Women's Cup 2022

16.02. Bulgaria - Latvia (10.00)
16.02. Uzbekistan - Lithuania (14.00)
16.02. Ukraine - Venezuela (17.30) 

19.02. Venezuela - Latvia (10.00) 
19.02. Bulgaria - Lithuania (14.00)  
19.02. Ukraine - Uzbekistan (17.30) 

22.02. Lithuania - Latvia (10.00) 
22.02. Ukraine - Bulgaria (13.30)
22.02. Uzbekistan - Venezuela (17.30)

It will be recalled that on April 8 and 12, the Blue and Yellows will play two home matches in the 2023 World Cup - against Scotland and Hungary, respectively. Currently Ukrainian occupy the fourth place in the standings, but keep the chances of reaching the playoffs.

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