Given how the past few months have unfolded, could it really have been anyone else?
Germany’s footballers seem to be in the midst of a period in which everything they touch turns to gold, and Canada 2014 proved to be no exception. But while the concluding images of celebrating, white-shirted players were strikingly familiar, the way in which Maren Meinert’s women’s U-20s seized glory differed substantially to the world and Europe-conquering senior and U-19 men.
“We spent the whole summer cheering on the men in Brazil, and their success definitely motivated us,” Meinert said after lifting the trophy. “We didn’t necessarily expect to follow them and be standing here as champions, but we’re very proud – and the quality of teams we’ve beaten along the way makes us especially so.”
No-one, certainly, could accuse the Germans of having taken the easy route to glory. A draw that grouped them with Brazil, China PR and holders USA saw to that, and topping that section merely led to tougher matches against hosts Canada, France and Nigeria. In each of those knockout games, Meinert’s side often appeared to be struggling; even second best. France, the European champions – having beaten Germany in that continental campaign – were certainly dominant in the sides’ semi-final, registering 22 attempts on goal to the eventual champions’ five.
The final developed along similar lines, with Nigeria – who would themselves have been worthy champions – creating the better and more numerous chances. Later, it was no surprise to see French and Falconets players vying for positions in the adidas Golden Ball pecking order.
It was not, though, that the Germans lacked fine players – they had several – or that theirs was a triumph based on good fortune. But without a single identifiable star, and without ever blowing the opposition away, Meinert’s side were still able to win a third FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – equalling USA’s record – thanks to unity, mental strength and will to win that none of the others could match.
Star players, spectacular goals
Nigeria and France, who finished second and third respectively, possessed other, equally laudable qualities. The African champions would enter the field singing and dancing, and that same effervescence was evident in their play, with early goals – including the two fastest in U-20 Women’s World Cup history – a common feature of their matches. They also had Canada 2014’s outstanding player in Asisat Oshoala, winner of both the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe, whose tournament peaked in a remarkable semi-final win over Korea DPR in which she scored four times.
France, for their part, produced some of the tournament’s most sumptuous football and also showcased a few outstanding individuals. Flair-filled performances and spectacular goals established Claire Lavogez, for example, as a firm favourite of the Canadian fans, while centre-half Griedge Mbock Bathy – winner of the Golden Ball at the U-17 finals in 2012 – reaffirmed her status as one of the women’s game’s great prospects.
Yet it was not only on the winners’ podium that the success stories were to be found. New Zealand made history by qualifying for the knockout phase for the first time, while Paraguay performed creditably on their U-20 Women’s World Cup debut. There were plusses, too, for the Asian sides, with Korea DPR and Korea Republic both qualifying from their sections and China PR producing arguably the match of the tournament: a remarkable 5-5 draw with the team that would go on to lift the trophy.
The overall quality of football also yielded a generous response, both in the stands and online. FIFA.com’s news coverage and highlights were avidly followed, while footage of some of the tournament’s more spectacular goals – with stunners from Lavogez and England’s Beth Mead among those worth reliving – quickly went viral.
Appetites have undoubtedly been whetted for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, with Canada – as expected – having proved enthusiastic and hospitable hosts. The home fans also had one of the tournament’s great comeback stories to cheer, with Andrew Olivieri’s young Canucks having lost their opening match, gone 2-0 down in their second and still managed to make it through to the quarter-finals.
It is on such drama that World Cups are built, and as well as offering the female game’s best youngsters a fantastic stage on which to showcase and develop their talent, Canada 2014 has set a lofty standard for the tournaments that will follow.
Brazil, Canada, China PR, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Paraguay, USA
4. Korea DPR
Host Cities and stadiums
Olympic Stadium (Montreal), National Soccer Stadium (Toronto), Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton), Moncton Stadium (Moncton)
Number of goals
102 (average of 3.2 per game)
adidas Golden Boot: Asisat Oshoala (NGA) (seven goals, two assists)
adidas Silver Boot: Pauline Bremer (GER) (five goals, six assists)
adidas Bronze Boot: Sara Dabritz (GER) (five goals, two assists)
adidas Golden Ball: Asisat Oshoala (NGA)
adidas Silver Ball: Griedge Mbock Bathy (FRA)
adidas Bronze Ball: Claire Lavogez (FRA)
adidas Golden Glove: Meike Kamper (GER)
Number of spectators
288,558 (average of 9,017)