Standard of U-19s surprises, and it's only getting better
Considering that this is the first time the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship has ever been held, it is natural that people might wonder what the quality of play is like. Given the enthusiastic response of the crowds, the fact that many of the players are on the cusp of their full national teams, and the skills on display so far, it is fair to say that the standard of football has exceeded the expectations of most.
FIFA Technical Study Group member in Victoria, South African Fran Hilton-Smith, is one of those. "I thought the level and quality of play was exceptional in Group C. It was much better than even we at the Local Organising Committee had anticipated. The quality has been fantastic for the junior level, and it was a pleasant surprise."
In Vancouver, Canadian TSG Sylvie Beliveau concurred. "The matches have been great to watch. The standards in Group B has been very high, and the soccer has been very offensive."
Both observers also mention the growing equality in the sport. Hilton-Smith said, "I think there is a great balance growing in the women's game. Chinese Taipei lost 6-0 (to the US) tonight, but they played extremely well and fought to the end. Parity in the game has emerged at an increasingly rapid rate in recent years. Even in countries with no competitive leagues, individual players are getting much much better and developing extremely well."
While conceding the closeness of the teams in terms of skill, Beliveau does bring up one point that could explain some of the lopsided score lines. "No teams were outplayed in terms of the standard of soccer ... The difference between them came down to fitness.
"Too many goals came directly from defensive errors. Given that this is the first competition at this level that might be expected, but I think a lot of it had to do with the girls getting tired, and that's when mistakes are made."
Perhaps it's no surprise then that the most prepared team, the US, has been the most impressive so far.
I was quite surprised at just how good the US team was," reflected Hilton-Smith. "They are the one team that is technically and tactically far superior to their opponents. It is no surprise though, considering the money, time and effort that is devoted to the women's game in the USA."
As US coach Tracey Leone said earlier in the tournament, "You can already see the girls improving and once countries really start to get behind these teams, the difference between the players will close even more."