At the final whistle in Baku’s 8 km Stadium, the German players crumpled to the turf in dismay, some of them weeping uncontrollably. A fine run at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan ended in the semi-finals, as the U-17 European champions fell 2-1 to Korea DPR and missed out on a place in the final. The impressive Asians were just too strong for Anouschka Bernhard’s team on the night.
“Our opponents played very well indeed. I have no criticism of my team. We have to accept North Korea were better today," said the experienced coach, who gathered her players into a huddle as normal after the match.
“I told my players they could have three minutes to be upset," Bernhard revealed to FIFA.com. “Yet again, we gave it our best shot, and when we took each other by the hand, we vowed to do the same again in the third-place play-off."
In the match, the Germans were unable to complete a comeback after going two goals down to goals either side of half-time by Kim So-Hyang. Bernhard's team rallied and cut the deficit half-an-hour from the end courtesy of Rebecca Knaak, who was once again in the right place at the right time: it was the striker who sent her team through to the last four with a last-gasp winner against Brazil in the quarters.
On this occasion, the Europeans were not to be rewarded for a trademark battling display against the North Koreans. The blend of persistence and luck which brought vital late strikes against the South Americans and China PR deserted the Germans on this particular night.
“We gave it everything we have and kept up the fight to the end," goalscorer Knaak told FIFA.com with remarkable composure in the circumstances. “But North Korea were simply the better team today and we congratulate them on making the final. Obviously we're disappointed, but we'll immediately turn our focus to the next match against Ghana and try and finish third."
The match for bronze is a reunion between old friends, as the teams faced each other in their group with the Germans shading the affair 2-1. However, Ghana have grown in stature and belief as the tournament has gone on, knocking out favourites Japan in the quarter-finals.
Unsurprisingly, Bernhard spoke about Saturday's match at Baku’s Tofig Stadium in wary tones. “I don't think it's an advantage that we've already played Ghana. I watched Ghana against France, and they were completely different compared to when we met in the group," the 42-year-old said.
The coach now has three days to lift her demoralised players and prepare them for their final outing. “We know how Ghana play, and that they’re aggressive. But we also know how to play against them and win," concluded Knaak, clearly already in the mood for the third-place play-off.