At the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan, Germany seem to have made dramatic finishes their stock in trade. After a tense and closely fought 90 minutes, Anouschka Bernhard’s team have twice reduced their opponents to tears with vital goals in added time at the end.
“We don’t plan on going out and scoring in the last minute or in stoppage time," Bernhard insisted at the press conference following her team’s last-gasp quarter-final victory over Brazil. “We aim to settle as quickly as possible and apply pressure, which unfortunately hasn't been working. I'm afraid I really don't know why we suddenly rediscover our passion in the second half and not before. It would definitely be nice if we could play with this passion and quality from the start against Korea DPR."
Rock-solid centre-back pairing
It was Rebecca Knaak who broke Brazilian hearts and became Germany's hero with her 92nd-minute winner. As always, the players who get the goals earn immediate praise and congratulations, but even the best forward line is worth very little without a solid defence. Errors at the back often consume as many column inches as goals scored at the other end.
Germany's progress to the last four at Brazil's expense was not only down to the attacking instincts of Sara Dabritz and Knaak, but to a typically disciplined defensive display. Time and again, the South Americans foundered on the rock formed by centre-backs Wibke Meister and Franziska Jaser, although immediately after the final whistle, the pair were still struggling with the reality of advancing to the semis.
“First of all, it has to sink in that we've achieved the initial target we set ourselves as a team," a beaming Meister told FIFA.com, “I'm certain we'll really enjoy it by this evening." Jaser was a shade more circumspect: “Obviously we're delighted about winning, but we’re already thinking about the next match. We leave for the next hotel tomorrow and we'll focus on the semi-final straightaway." Even at this early stage in their footballing careers, the U-17s adopt a highly professional approach to tournament play.
Byanca’s trick thwarted
In the scrap with Brazil, Meister faced a difficult task in marking the elusive and agile striker Byanca, who hit the headlines in the group stage with an extraordinary back-heeled lob. The Brazilian gem was determined to pull off the stunt again against the Germans.
“Especially in the first half I had a lot of problems with her and my positioning wasn't good. It was tough when she came at me at pace and with all her tricks. On one occasion, she tried the move where she scoops the ball over her opponent’s head, but we knew all about that trick already and I set myself well to deal with it. Unfortunately for her, the trick didn't come off and she didn't try it again either. In the second half she more or less stayed out of my way. I think we took her out of the game pretty well,” explained the 17-year-old. “Franziska and I spoke explicitly about no pass getting through the gap between us. And no pass did!”
Positional discipline is key
Last-four opponents DPR Korea present another tough challenge for Bernhard's troops. The Asians include potent striker Ri Un-Sim, the leading scorer in Azerbaijan to date with seven goals. However, the rearguard which stymied the Brazilian attack for long spells will surely come up with a solution against the nimble North Koreans.
“They're very quick and take very few touches. Just like we did against China, we'll have to focus very hard and maintain our positional discipline. Hopefully that’ll be enough to deal with them," Meister concluded.