The Portuguese Football Federation are using May's UEFA Women's Champions League final in Lisbon as a springboard to nurture the development of the women's game.
Following the full-time whistle, May's UEFA Women's Champions League final in Lisbon began leaving an impressive legacy on which Portugal aims to build its women's football development.
The match at the Estádio do Restelo in the Portuguese capital was a magnificent occasion, VfL Wolfsburg emerging victorious after a seven-goal thriller against Tyresö FF. There was quality and excitement in abundance, and local women and girls who were fortunate enough to watch the action will doubtless have been further bitten by the football bug. With Portugal such a football stronghold, hard work is already afoot at the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) to nurture the development of the women's game.
"The growth is on track," said Monica Jorge, member of the board of directors. "We've just concluded our first strategic plan for the development of women's football. We're in the final phase of some of the resulting proposals from that, and if everything goes well we will start to implement it next season.
"It will take time, because things don't happen in a short period and it's a long-term plan of development. But things are starting to go well for us, regarding results, and especially with our youth national teams.
"We've already qualified twice for the final stages of the U19 and U17 European championship in two years," Jorge added. "If you consider that we have a U17 team for the first time, who at the first try have qualified for the final stage of a competition, that's fantastic. There's a great enthusiasm around women's football, especially at grassroots level. Now it's easier for youngsters to play women's football in Portugal; parents accept that girls play football."
In Portugal, one of the development strategies is the promotion of district competitions for teenage players. As Tyresö and Wolfsburg were making their final preparations for the UEFA Women's Champions League showdown, U13 teams in Lisbon were already getting their experiences on the field at both the UEFA Champions Festival and on the maxi-pitch handed over to the city of Lisbon by UEFA – all part of activities funded by UEFA's Women’s Football Development Programme (WFDP).
"We have these types of events here to organise for the young players to be able to participate," said Francisco Neto, coach of the Portugal women's team. "That means it's another experience for them, in a completely different context from what they're used to, which is very good for us."
"Bringing an event of this size to Portugal has made us see the importance and value UEFA gives to women's football," he added. "That, and our players having the chance to watch live a match featuring the best players in the world at the highest level, is very important to us."
FPF president Fernando Gomes agrees that the presence of top European players at the UEFA Women's Champions League final would serve as an encouragement to Portuguese girls to take up the game, saying: "With great great players, it will definitely be an important attraction. Those young players, girls, who have the desire to play football had the opportunity to see a match at the highest level, a spectacular level.
"It will probably be even more of an incentive for them to want to play football. It's important in terms of the development of women's football, not just from the point of view of having great players, but also in enlarging the base of recruitment of players. The chance to see great players at that level will probably allow us to enlarge the base of the pyramid of our women's football, because we need to grow a lot in terms of numbers of girls actually playing football."
"[The final] will remain in history, and in the memories for all the people that participated," added Jorge. "It's an activity and an event which we will remember forever. It's fantastic, an event that motivates the players; it motivates the youngsters to start playing this sport. We have a lot of hope that women's football, in the medium to long term, will be able to reach higher objectives at a competitive level."