While UEFA EURO 2012 had a rest day ahead of Sunday’s final showdown, the last remaining berths for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 were allocated and the women’s U-17 European champions were crowned.
France and Germany went head-to-head in the final of the UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship in Nyon, Switzerland, where the latter eventually won 4-3 on penalties after some goalkeeping heroics from Merle Frohms, who saved two spot-kicks.
Of the 42 teams that began the qualifying rounds, the four semi-finalists - Switzerland, France, Denmark and Germany - remained in contention for a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup spot. After France defeated Switzerland 5-1 and Germany beat Denmark 2-0, the two finalists secured their place at Azerbaijan 2012.
In soaring temperatures, France and Germany quite literally played out a hotly-contested final. Following a goalless first half, a Kadidiatou Diani free-kick broke the deadlock for France in the second period.
However, Anouschka Bernhard’s Germany side fought back and equalised ten minutes later when Pauline Bremer converted Vivien Beil’s free-kick. With the scores tied at 1-1 at the end of regulation playing time, the match went to a penalty shoot-out.
Team spirit the key
“I still can’t quite believe that we’re European champions,” Bernhard told FIFA.com in an interview after the final whistle. “Of course I’d thought about what it would be like to stand here soaking wet having been sprayed with water. I’ve been working with this group of players for over a year and we started off really badly.
“We played at the Nordic Cup last summer and finished seventh. No German team has ever done that badly. If someone had told me then that this moment would come today, I’d have thought they were completely crazy. That’s why it’s so unbelievable what this team has achieved,” the 41-year-old added.
It is team spirit that led Germany through the qualifying rounds and took them not only to the European title, but also to a place at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in September/October. “We have a group that has grown as a team. There are some very good players but they need to work as a unit,” Bernhard continued.
“At the beginning they couldn’t do it so well, but during qualification for the European Championship the way they performed together was incredible. We knew we could make it difficult for anyone to beat us if we continued playing like that.”
Nowhere was their team spirit more evident than in the final in Nyon and Bernhard is aware that France had the better of the game and were on top in several periods. “Of course there’s always an element of luck in penalty shoot-outs,” said the coach.
“But you could see how the team fought. There were about 20 minutes left but their heads didn’t drop. It was a do-or-die situation. We started attacking really well, sometimes going forward furiously. They really battled hard to equalise. Some of our players were very tired, but they showed the extra couple of per cent you need to come back and pull level. Then I had a feeling that we’d win on penalties.”
Adventure in Azerbaijan
Neither side will have long to dwell on the result, as the draw for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will be made on Friday 6 July at the International Mugam Centre in Baku at 19:00 local time (16:00 CET). The coaches will discover who they will be up against and can start planning accordingly.
“Our preparations for the World Cup in Azerbaijan start in August,” said Bernhard, a FIFA Women’s World Cup runner-up in 1995. “The players have July completely off. We’re really looking forward to it, Baku is a fascinating city. It’s the first World Cup for all of us, so we’re starting an adventure together. It’s great that our journey can continue because it’s such a terrific team. We can keep dreaming our dream until October.
“As reigning European champions we want to make it to the latter stages of the World Cup. Going out in the group stage or picking up the odd point isn’t what we’re after. We don’t know who we’ll be in a group with. We just want to have a lot of fun together, play good football and be a good team,” concluded Bernhard.