Laudehr eager to face old foes
The lobby of the team hotel in St Petersburg is a bustling, vibrant place in the early evening. The American squad gathers for a pre-dinner stroll around the Russian metropolis, the French meet up before proceeding to the restaurant, and the Koreans are just getting off the bus from the training ground.
The air is filled with greetings and smiles of recognition, but the various groups more or less stick together. In the midst of this multicultural gathering, we pick out Simone Laudehr. The likeable German midfielder has just finished her meal, and takes time out for a chat with FIFA.com.
Two days ahead of a crunch quarter-final meeting with the USA, the German camp is imbued with a sense of focus and determination. Along with team-mate Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi , Laudehr starred in the last major showdown between the teams, a 3-1 victory for Germany at the semi-final stage of the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004.
However, the player is unwilling to draw any conclusions from a match played two years ago. "You can't compare the teams then and now," she said. "It's a new team, with a new set of strengths, but maybe new weaknesses too."
The 20-year-old is eagerly looking forward to Sunday afternoon's match in St Petersburg, as the USA are unquestionably one of the best teams at the tournament. "They're full of running and fight. They keep it up for the full 90 minutes," the FCR Duisburg starlet explains. "But back in 2004, we demonstrated our ability to match them in terms of pace, tactics and the physical side of the game. It'll definitely be an exciting match."
The 1.75m tall midfielder first discovered a passion for football at the tender age of four. She played in a boys' team while at primary school. "I always got out of skipping with the girls'," she smiles. Her parents first recognised her talent for the game. "As you're always playing with the boys, you might as well join a club," they told the young Simone. She played for the U-9 team at FC Tegernheim, but also received extra coaching from her father. "He helped me understand tactics," she recalls.
She has not always occupied her current position wide on the left. She began as a libero and tried her hand at various midfield berths, before finally arriving on the flank. "I like pushing up from deep and heading for goal. You have plenty of options in front of you," she points out.
Dreaming of China
The 20-year-old has caught the eye at the tournament so far, scoring against Mexico and again in Germany's 6-0 victory over Switzerland .
Perhaps even more remarkable is her performance as provider: a total of four assists means she has laid on more than a quarter of her team's goals, three of them for the team's leading markswoman Anna Blasse. Coach Maren Meinert is impressed: "Simone is a versatile player who's very strong in attack. She has a vital role in the team because we can use her in a number of ways. She also brings her experience from the 2004 world championship to the squad."
The player, who at 20 years of age is the third-oldest in the team, is naturally delighted by those words of praise. She has learned to appreciate the dynamics of working together as a group for three or four weeks at a tournament.
"It's a lot of fun, and we sometimes get away completely, so it's never boring. That's how you develop team spirit," is her view. Once training and team-talks are out of the way, there is even time for activities considered normal by the average young woman. "Most of us go out shopping," she grins. The team management also lays on a varied supporting programme, including city tours, river trips and the like. "It all helps us grow together as a group."
Germany are hoping the power of that team spirit will take them a long way towards the trophy. Laudehr, for one, reckons the team is capable of claiming silverware in Russia. "We have a good chance, because this team has a fantastic attitude," she assesses. "Provided we stick together and work hard, I do believe we could go all the way."
This will be Simone's last U-20 World Championship, "but hopefully not my last World Cup," she is quick to add. "I'm definitely aiming to play for the senior national team sometime soon." However, the side featuring the likes of Birgit Prinz and Co is packed with talent, and the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 in China is not far away.
"Capable players like Conny Pohlers and Anja Mittag are in front of me, and I'll have to get the better off them first," she admits. "I'd like to become as good as these players. I know I'm still young, but I want to get involved and keep on improving. All I can do is give it my best shot here and in the Bundesliga."
The next opportunity presents itself on Sunday against the USA, where another outstanding display would represent a significant step towards Germany realising their dream of lifting the trophy, with Luadehr insisting: "We all believe we can do it."