Monday 22 May 2017, 06:57

Yuceil rising to meet every challenge

  • Sara Yuceil set to take part in Belgium's first-ever UEFA Women's EURO

  • She tells about parallels between her club Marseille and her national side

  • The midfielder explains why women's football is on the rise in Belgium​

Sara Yuceil loves a challenge, and the harder the better. Take her reaction to success in Belgium with dominant local force Standard Liege. Did she bask in the glory and sign up for more? Quite the opposite. She moved to France to join a Marseille team aiming to avoid relegation – and helped them finish fourth. And nor was she content being part of a Belgium side making up the international numbers. With Yuceil in their ranks, the Red Flames promptly clinched an historic berth at UEFA Women's EURO 2017.

Naturally enough, the midfielder was in a radiant mood when met up with her at the end of her debut season in France – radiant, but exhausted. As she admitted herself: "It was a pretty long season, so it'll do everyone good to relax a little and get a bit of rest."

***Yuceil's season with Marseille

  • Formed in 2011, Marseille's women's team contested their first-ever campaign in the top flight

  • Their target? Survival. Their final placing? Fourth, behind Lyon, Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain

  • 12 appearances, one goal (in a historic 2-0 win against PSG)*

***Her career with Belgium

  • First capped on 11 February 2015 (Spain 2-1 Belgium)

  • 21 appearances, two goals*

Time, then, for a well-deserved holiday…except that Yuceil already has plans this off-season after her role in helping Belgium qualify for EURO 2017. Instead, she will be heading to the Netherlands in July, shortly after her 29th birthday, for another challenge of the highest order. Not only must the Belgians tackle the hosts in their group, they have also been drawn against Norway and Denmark, two established sides on the women's football scene.

Reasons for optimism "They're big teams and it's one of the toughest groups," she explained. "But on the other hand, we've already played against them in friendlies and we were able to beat them. True, those were just friendly games, but we'll go there knowing we can beat them again."

That might sound like overconfidence from a side preparing to dispute its first-ever major tournament, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism. After all, the Red Flames have made significant advances of late, in a country where the women's game has long been overshadowed by the success of the men's senior team.

"Our progress comes down to the fact that most of the squad has been together for four or five years," added Yuceil, who won her first cap in February 2015. "The national team has become a little bit like a club side. On top of that, our standard was raised by the BeNe League (a joint championship for Belgian and Netherlands' clubs** between 2012 and 2015). And last year, a large number of players moved overseas, which has been another boost to our progress."

Similar paths It is an odd coincidence, meanwhile, that Yuceil's national side and her club bear several similarities. "Thinking about it, there are plenty of things in common between OM and Belgium," she said. "Both are small teams with everything to prove, and both are teams that other sides expect a lot from because of what their names represent in football. We're between the two, progressing fast while looking to confirm our standing."

Marseille only reached the top flight for the first time in 2016, after being formed in 2011, and their long-term mission now is to tussle for prominence with France's traditional powers. As for Belgium, they can look forward to a fresh opportunity to make history in the qualifiers for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™. "I love being in the position of the little team looking to build and become a big team," said Yuceil, neatly summing up her career so far.

Yuceil off the ball… her start in football: "I began playing when I was five years old with my brother. We're a very sporting family: my father played and coached basketball. We played both football and basketball, but my brother chose football – and I went along with him!"

her heroes: "My father is Turkish, and our team is Galatasaray. So, for me, the greatest of all is Gheorghe Hagi. There's no current player who inspires me in particular now…except my team-mate Janice Cayman."

her other interests: "For the first time in my life, I'm able to make a living playing football. Before, work came first and then football. I studied social care and worked in a centre for women at risk, and then as an educational coordinator in a nursery school. I miss working from time to time, but it's great to be discovering this other life."

(A quick hello from the fourth-placed side in D1. @OMfeminines thank you for your constant support #D1F We love you too…)