On one side of the semi-final draw you have Korea DPR and Germany, two nations that have not only taken part in all the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups so far, but have a history of contending for the title. On the other side, however, we find two countries making their first appearances in the last-four at these competitions, in the shape of France and Ghana, who are no less hungry for glory.
The two match-ups thus provide a faithful reflection of the well-balanced nature of Azerbaijan 2012, with Tuesday’s encounters at Baku’s 8 km Stadium deciding who will face off in next Saturday's final.
This will be the third time that Germans and North Koreans go head-to-head at the finals of a FIFA U-17 World Cup, and the evenly-fought nature of their past meetings has only heightened expectations. The Asian team drew 1-1 with their European opponents in the group phase on their way to winning the title at New Zealand 2008, while at Trinidad and Tobago 2010 the Koreans won 1-0 in the quarter-finals to end a German campaign that had featured three emphatic group wins and 22 goals scored.
Nevertheless, in FIFA women’s competitions overall it is Germany who have the better record, winning three, drawing one and losing two of the six meetings between the two nations – including wins at the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007™ and the Women’s Olympic Tournament Beijing 2008. Can this talented German generation spearheaded by Sara Dabritz, which needed an injury-time winner to oust Brazil in the last eight, get the better of Ri Un-Sim and Co? The latter were quarter-final victors over Canada and are proud owners of this tournament’s biggest scoreline: an 11-0 thumping of Gambia.
In stark contrast to the other two semi-finalists, France and Ghana have never been this close to the podium at a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. The responsibility on the Ghanaians’ shoulders is heavy, with Mas-Ud Dramani’s charges the first African nation to reach the semi-final stage at this competition. What's more, they are now firmly tagged as the tournament’s surprise packages after knocking out favourites Japan in the last eight.
France too have made history, having never previously negotiated the group phase at this competition. And having already beaten Gambia and Nigeria here on Azerbaijani soil, Les Bleuettes will have every reason to feel confident ahead of their tie with the swift and powerful Ghanaians.
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The constant movement and prompting of Sara Dabritz, the engine of the German midfield, is a genuine headache for any opponent. At the heart of most of her team’s attacking moves, the No10 is no slouch in front of goal either, racking up two goals against group rivals Uruguay and firing Germany’s equaliser against Brazil in the quarter-finals.
10 - Said win over A Seleção moved Germany onto ten wins from 14 games at FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups, thus levelling the record held by Japan. A victory over Korea DPR, therefore, would put them clear at the top of the all-time standings.
“I don’t like the idea of always having to score in the last few minutes. I hope that against North Korea we can show that same intensity for the entire game, so we don’t find ourselves in that situation again,” Germany coach Anouschka Bernhard.