"For me, there's no doubt about it," said USA coach Albertin Montoya before a single ball had been kicked at the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. "We've been drawn in the toughest group in the competition. France and Korea DPR are two formidable teams." Unfortunately for the Stars and Stripes, those words were soon to prove prophetic.
It came down to goal difference in the end, but there was no disputing the final standings as USA finished third behind the North Koreans and Les Bleuettes. They were therefore forced to bid a premature farewell to Azerbaijan, as were newcomers Gambia, who lacked sufficient experience to really mount a challenge but can console themselves with having struck their first ever goal in a FIFA women's tournament.
France's hopes of qualification thus came down to their meeting with the African debutants, and needing to win by more than six goals they duly delivered with a 10-2 triumph that ensured their first ever passage to the last eight. Elsewhere, Korea DPR and USA played out a 1-1 draw that provoked a tearful farewell from the American players at the final whistle. Indeed, never before have a USA team exited a FIFA women's tournament at the very first hurdle.
Knock on wood
France struck the woodwork no fewer than seven times in their final group outing against Gambia – and five of those occasions resulted in the ball rebounding back into play. Fortune finally smiled on Les Bleuettes after the break, however, as Candice Gherbi scored in off a post and Kadidiatou Diani did likewise off the crossbar to help complete the resounding win they needed. As for USA, they hit the bar in the closing minutes of their encounter with the North Koreans – but in their case, luck was not on their side.
USA held at bay
USA will no doubt look back on the first half of their game against Gambia when it comes to analysing where they fell short. Summer Green made CONCACAF history by plundering 12 goals in qualifying, but she and her colleagues were frustrated time and again by the Girl Scorpions during the opening period at Baku's Dalga Arena. A solitary penalty scored by Green was all they could muster in the first 45 minutes, and ultimately they finished third due to a goal difference just two goals worse off than France's.
"The final standings in our group make sense. They reflect what happened in the matches perfectly, as Korea DPR had the upper hand against us and we were better than USA," Lea Declerqc, France forward.