The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 reaches its climax this Saturday at the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku with two unprecedented matches. For the first time in the history of the tournament, the final is a repeat of a first-round game, as New Zealand 2008 champions Korea DPR reprise their Group B duel with France, the first European side to reach the final of the competition.
The match for third place is also between first-round rivals, as Group D qualifiers Germany and Ghana square off with the last place on the podium at stake. FIFA.com looks forward to the last day of Azerbaijan 2012 and two games that each pit a well-established power in women’s football against an emerging force.
Korea DPR have little left to prove at this stage, having qualified for every FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup held to date and won the inaugural competition four years ago. The first side to reach the final twice, the North Koreans will be drawing on all their experience against opponents who have never ventured beyond the group phase before.
Coached by Hwang Yong-Bong, the Asian side’s chief goal threat is Ri Un-Sim, the tournament’s leading markswoman and a leading contender for the adidas Golden Boot. Well-disciplined and nimble, the North Koreans are versatile with it, and have plenty of cover to call on should their star striker have an off day, as she did in the semi-final against Germany, when Kim So-Hyang stepped into the breach to score a match-winning brace.
Opponents France are far from inexperienced themselves, despite never having progressed beyond the group phase before and despite this being their first appearance in a FIFA Women’s World Cup final in any age group. The UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship runners-up showed their worth in the group phase, holding the North Koreans to a 1-1 draw and beating USA to a place in the knockout rounds. Their main hopes of success lie with the goalscoring instincts of Lea Declercq and Kadidiatou Diani, and the solidity offered by Griedge Mbock Bathy at the back.
Though the Germans failed to avenge their quarter-final loss to Korea DPR at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, they can still equal their best-ever finish in the competition if they see off the Ghanaians, who have never gone this far before and are also the first African side to do so.
The good news for Sara Daebritz and Co is that Ghana will be without their star performer Jane Ayieyam, who was sent off in their semi-final against France. Nevertheless, the Africans have plenty of other attributes aside from Ayieyam’s prowess in front of goal, not least the strength and speed that have made them the surprise packages of Azerbaijan 2012.
The two sides know each other well after their Group D meeting. On that occasion Germany took an early two-goal lead, bucking their habit of staging late comebacks in the tournament, before clinging on for a 2-1 win as the Africans spurned a host of chances.
Player to watch
On the scoresheet in her country’s first four games at Azerbaijan 2012, Korea DPR goal machine Ri Un-Sim blotted her copybook with a scoreless performance in the semi-final against Germany. Still one goal behind Yeo Minji’s all-time tournament record of eight, a mark the Korea Republic striker set at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, Ri will be worth keeping an eye out for as she goes for glory against the French.
116 - The number of goals scored so far at Azerbaijan 2012, three more than the tally for New Zealand 2008, but still nine behind the competition record set at Trinidad and Tobago 2010.
“Korea DPR are a very strong team with a lot of energy. There’s no doubt that the final will be even more keenly contested that the first match. As far as we’re concerned I think it’s better for us to be facing them than Germany, who beat us in the European Championship final,” France player Marion Romanelli.