Luis Cortes: "We are satisfied with the results of the draw. It is very exciting to play in the Nations League, the new tournament that UEFA created for women's football"
In May, it will be a year and a half since the winner of the UEFA Women's Champions League with "Barcelona", one of the best coaches of our time in women's football, the Spaniard Luis Cortes, was at the helm of the national women's team of Ukraine.
The specialist shared the results of the work of his coaching staff during this period of time, talked about the nuances of cooperation with the national team in the conditions of a full-scale military invasion of Russia in Ukraine, and also expressed the hope that his wards will be able to show a high level of play in the premier women's League of Nations.
— Luis, do you see progress in the game of the national team of Ukraine since you took over the team in the fall of 2021?
- So. Progress was noticeable already after the first training session. After 17 months of work, I can assure you that today the team is much better than when we started working with it. We are playing better, we understand the game better, and despite all the difficulties, including those related to irregular meetings and the training process, the girls have improved their performances. And the appearance of new performers helped us to make the national team more competitive.
— The national team failed to qualify for the 2023 World Cup. And how do you assess the results of the blue-yellow during your work with them?
— In order to evaluate the performances of the Ukrainian national team, it is necessary to take into account the context and circumstances in which our team found itself in the midst of the selection campaign. I cannot say that our performances were excellent. We wanted to go to the World Cup, but we had to reckon with the high level of teams from Spain and Scotland, who became the strongest in the group.
The June match against the Scots in Ryashev was unsuccessful, as it was the team's first game after the start of the war. The girls were not in the best shape and psychological state. We played 10 matches, won six, drew one and lost three. We also won the prestigious Turkish Women's Cup in February 2022, so the evaluation of the performances should be positive.
— What changes did your coaching staff introduce in the national team?
— We have changed many things: ways of conducting the game, the training process, the daily life of the girls during the training sessions, etc.
As for the game, the current Ukrainian national team is an organized team with clear ideas and an attacking mentality. We try to possess the ball and be the main actors in the game, we try to play boldly.
As for training, we implemented our work methodology, which the girls accepted very well. We presented them with a new way of training, based on working with the ball, understanding the game and making decisions.
Well, changes in everyday life concern, for example, nutrition. This is necessary in order to instill in the girls a more professional approach and to develop useful habits for their daily activities in the clubs.
— Are there any players in the national team who could become new leaders of the team, given that some experienced footballers have already finished their careers, and the long-term leader of the blue-yellow team, Daria Apanashchenko already 36?
— Yes, we are also working on changing generations, giving more responsibility to younger players who become new leaders of the team both on and off the field. We would like to enjoy Daria Apanashchenko's football for a long time, but time is running out, and we have to be ready for the day when she decides to end her career in the national team.
— How do you interpret the results? of the draw premier draw of the Women's League of Nations?
— We got difficult opponents, such as Poland and Serbia. These are strong teams. They are playing good matches, especially Serbia, who beat Germany 3-2 a few months ago. Poland is also constantly proving its high level of skill with leading players such as Eva Payor and Paulina Dudek. In turn, Greece is a team from the fourth basket, but they have a very good coach and the Greek women are improving every day, showing good results.
We are satisfied with the results of the draw. It is very exciting to play in the Nations League, the new tournament that UEFA created for women's football. I believe that this is a very correct decision for the development of women's football throughout Europe. We are ready to play against all these teams. We hope to perform well in September when the tournament starts.
— What do you expect from the debut Women's League of Nations and the performances of your charges in this tournament?
— I hope that the national team of Ukraine will be able to show its best game. The level of European teams is rising, so all the matches will be very demanding, but we have to be ambitious and ready to beat anyone. The girls are highly motivated to do their best in the Nations League and we must not forget that the results of this tournament will also determine the teams participating in Euro 2025.
— For more than a year, your coaching staff has been working under the conditions of a full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine. What obstacles did you have to face in working with the team during the war?
— No one will teach you in coaching courses or at the university how to coach a national team in a country at war. It was not easy, and we had to act according to the circumstances.
From the first weeks of the war, we held various solidarity actions to help the Ukrainian society, which found itself in such difficult circumstances. We also had to find teams outside of Ukraine for over 55 players so they could continue playing soccer. It has been a very busy two months, but we are proud to have been able to help so many female footballers during such difficult times.
After the players traveled all over Europe, it was difficult to follow their performances, because not all matches were broadcast on television. We had to travel to see some of the performers live, and in general it was extremely difficult to find video materials with the participation of all our soccer players.
In the autumn, when most of the players had already returned to Ukraine, this process was greatly simplified thanks to the initiative of the Ukrainian Football Association to broadcast all matches of the country's championship on YouTube.
— How difficult was it for you to build the training process of the national team, taking into account the many objective obstacles associated with the war?
- It is very difficult! Female footballers and staff in Ukraine have to face long bus journeys to training sessions and matches, as well as hours of waiting for border control.
For example, the team had to spend 33 hours traveling to the Faroe Islands for a World Cup qualifier. The girls arrived at the preliminary training camp in Suwalki (Poland) after a more than 20-hour bus journey. We had to travel 10 hours at night by bus from Suvalok to Estonia. Such conditions are not conducive to later showing high-level football. But I am infinitely grateful to the team's staff for their excellent work - and above all for their attitude to overcome all obstacles.
In general, the organization of training sessions for the national team in the current conditions is an extremely difficult process, because there are many logistical obstacles. We have been discussing this issue for many months with UAF president Andriy Pavelko, and I am very glad that with his help, the national team finally held a full-fledged training camp in April. I really hope that in June-July we can do it again to prepare well for the Nations League matches.
— What mood prevails in the team during meetings? Do girls feel the burden of war? And what is the atmosphere like in the national team outside the training process?
— One of the things that we should value the most is the girls' attitude to the situation in Ukraine. I'm proud of the way they train and play with everything going on in their heads. One thing is certain, they think about their country, their families and their friends.
During meetings, we try to talk and play soccer most of the time to maintain a working atmosphere. But we also try to help girls who are worried or in an unstable emotional state.
What pleases me the most is that, coming to the national team, the players feel proud and rejoice at the opportunity to defend the honor of their country on the football field. Therefore, the atmosphere during the training sessions is excellent, and it is very easy to work with football players who have such an attitude.
— And what attitude towards the situation in Ukraine currently prevails among your compatriots in Spain? What are people saying and what is being said in the media?
— This is an interesting question, because most people in Spain stop me on the street not because I was the coach of Barcelona and won the Women's Champions League, but because I witnessed the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Most of the Spanish media ask me exactly that. And on this occasion, I am especially grateful to Andriy Pavelko and his team for helping our coaching staff safely leave Ukraine in the first days of a full-scale Russian invasion.
Now Spain does not talk about the war in Ukraine as actively as it was a year ago, but I try to remind in all interviews and public speeches that the situation has not changed - the Russian invasion continues, and Ukrainians defend their country from aggressors.
I will also note that the support of the Ukrainian people by the Spanish society is still impressive. Many Ukrainian families are being helped to find new homes, jobs, and some, like me, are also helping Ukrainian boys and girls to play soccer so they can feel the relief of finally being safe.
— Despite the fact that there is a war going on in Ukraine, the country's new championship among women's teams started in September. In your opinion, was the UAF's decision to resume national competitions correct? And what effect does it have on the national team?
— It is good that the UAF decided to restart football competitions in Ukraine. Football is a very powerful tool for change in society, and in this situation it can help show the world that Ukrainian men and women are moving forward despite the war. I believe that UAF has done everything possible to give girls the opportunity to play football and at the same time minimize the risks for them.
And it is good for the national team, because some Ukrainian football players stopped their performances when the war started, because not all girls decided to go and play abroad. The new championship became an opportunity for them to continue playing football. The more girls are involved in the football process, the better the level of the national team will be, because we will have more opportunities to choose performers.
Women's League of Nations 2023/2024 draw results
Group A1: England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland.
Group A2: France, Norway, Austria, Portugal.
Group A3: Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Wales.
Group A4: Sweden, Spain, Italy, Switzerland.
Group B1: Ireland, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Albania.
Group B2: Finland, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia.
Group B3: Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Greece.
Group B4: Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus.
Group C1: Malta, Moldova, Latvia, Andorra.
Group C2: Turkey, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Georgia.
Group C3: Azerbaijan, Montenegro, Cyprus, Faroe Islands.
Group C4: Israel, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Armenia.
Group C5: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria.
UEFA Women's Nations League 2023/2024 calendar
Rounds 1-2: September 20-26, 2023.
Rounds 3-4: October 25-31, 2023.
Rounds 5-6: November 29 - December 5, 2023.
Final stage: February 21-28, 2024.
Match matches: February 21-28, 2024.
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