Germans brush aside idealess China for U-19 title (2:0)
One day past full, a pale moon peaked quietly above the fireworks in Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium as an ecstatic German team lifted the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship trophy following a deserved 2-0 victory over China PR. The 23,000 supporters at Thailand 2004's ultimate contest were treated to a lively yet structured display of football, with an early goal from Simone Laudehr and a late one from Melanie Behringer separating the two finalists.
German coach Silvia Neid couldn't hide her smiles when all of the on-pitch celebrations were done.
"Our goal was to be one of the last four teams in the tournament, and it's obviously a very special achievement to win the world championship," said the typically calm coach. "China played well and made it difficult for us … We knew they would play defensively, but we were able to make and finish some chances like we have done throughout the event."
Germany struck first while the Chinese were still settling into the contest. Super striker Anja Mittag won a foul on the left side of China's box and then put the resulting free-kick on target with her head. Net minder Zhang Yanru dove to her left to deny the number nine, but she could only push the ball out into her own area. The first one to it was the sliding Laudehr, who gave the Europeans a dream start to what always promised to be something of a defensive battle (1-0, 4').
After the match, China boss Wang Haiming admitted the early goal was a tough blow to take.
"Going behind that early in the match always makes things more challenging," said the taciturn coach. "My players still worked hard and showed a lot of spirit. Even at the end of the match when our fitness was pretty much gone, after six matches in Thailand, we continued to fight. Ultimately, it was not enough against an outstanding German team."
With China frazzled by just their fourth goal conceded in the finals, Germany were fluidly finding spaces in the Asians' rearguard. And in just the 11th minute, Laudehr should have completed an early brace when Mittag set her up in front of goal with a piercing through ball. However, the FCR Duisburg player pulled her left-footed shot just wide of the post.
Germany were also proving solid at the back, generally dismissing China's long-ball tactics with aplomb. The best chance of the half for the Chinese came in the 24th minute when Liu Sa got her head to a corner in front of the German goal. But, her try flashed just wide while the German team watched in horror and then relief.
As the half came to a close, Germany had a handful of half chances to increase their lead. Laudehr tried to catch the Chinese goalkeeper out when she shot at the near post instead of crossing from a narrow angle on the right. Then, Mittag and Patricia Hanebeck pulled off a nifty combination, but the striker's shot was deflected over. And with the last kick of the first period, Karolin Thomas brought the ball down well 20-yards out but couldn't keep her volley on target.
The second half continued largely in the same vein as the first. With both teams playing with just one true striker, the midfield battle raged and the defences seemed too solid to breach. Just past the hour mark the Chinese finally showed some spark, but substitute Xu Yuan waited too long to pull the ball back from the right and Tessa Rinkes pushed her cross-cum-shot away without difficulty.
Mittag was again at the centre of a pair of two German chances. In the 70th minute, she picked out Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi from the left, but the talented midfielder saw her low shot turned around the post fantastically by Zhang Yanru. Seconds later Mittag found space at the top of the area, but coul only send her shot screaming over the bar when she knew she should have done better.
With coach Neid pulling all the right tactical strings, Germany held their lead firmly. And they were given the insurance they needed to avoid some dramatic closing minutes when Behringer hit a rocket of a shot from 20 metres into the Chinese net (2-0, 83'). Predictably, it was Mittag who drew a handful of players to her in the box and then laid it off for her charging Potsdam team mate.
That was more than enough for a German team that proved themselves the class of Thailand 2004 and fully enjoyed their post-match celebrations under the hazy Thailand moon.
German captain Annike Krahn summed up Germany's joy after the contest: "It's a special honour for us to be world champions, and it's a special honour for me to play on such a team. The most important thing throughout the tournament for us was team spirit, and it carried us through a difficult final."