As always, the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) has been monitoring the action and analysing every game. Former France and China PR coach Elisabeth Loisel has been in charge of the TSG throughout Azerbaijan 2012, and she shared her observations on the competition in an interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Overall, how has the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 been for you?
Elisabeth Loisel: I’ve been very impressed. I’m pleasantly surprised by how the teams have developed since New Zealand 2008, which I also attended. I’ve found the teams to be much better organised tactically than in the past, particularly in defence. The teams are well organised and more able to defend collectively. They are also capable of pressing quite high up the pitch, which is amazing for players of this age.
Is there one team that has particularly surprised you?
I had expected Japan to go a step further this time, as I thought their team was very good at New Zealand 2008. Sadly, though, they didn’t go all the way and were knocked out in the quarter-finals. Nonetheless, they are still capable of playing very attractive attacking football, with exceptional speed of execution, mobility, tactical flexibility and intelligence. Technically, they are flawless. I’m rather sorry to have seen them knocked out again, as they are a great example of the work you can accomplish with young female players.
How do you think the competition’s first-timers have fared?
It’s clear that the newcomers still have a lot to learn. As was the case at the last edition of the tournament, they all went out in the first round. They lack a bit of experience at this level, and you can’t expect too much from a team in their first appearance. However, there are countries like Gambia and Azerbaijan where women’s football didn’t even exist until a few years ago, and it’s extraordinary for those nations just to be able to field a team in such a major competition. Most important, though, is the legacy that this tournament will leave in the countries, particularly here in Azerbaijan. I hope the federation continues the efforts it has made over the past three years, and that this young team carries on improving.
Is Asian football still the benchmark in the women’s game?
If you look at the four teams that reached the semi-finals, two are European and only one is from Asia. But it’s true that the Asian sides always either reach the last four or win the competition. In this category, all the titles have been won by Asian teams. It certainly shows how much work those nations do with their young female players on a daily basis. But you can't help but ask yourself why, with the exception of Japan, their junior teams win so many titles, while their senior sides fail to qualify or reach the semi-finals of major competitions.
Is there still a big gap in quality between the U-20 and U-17 categories?
The main differences are the pace of the game, tactical use of the pitch and player strength. The only teams [at Azerbaijan 2012] with the strength aspect are those that reached the semi-finals. But there is still a gap between those teams and the best U-20 sides, who are more able to switch between short passing, the long ball, using the flanks, counter-attacking, and so on. Apart from the likes of France, Germany, Korea DPR and Japan, the [U-17] teams aren’t able to play the long ball. They tend to prefer a short passing game, and to build from the back.
Have you enjoyed the spectacle on the pitch?
Yes, hugely. All the teams have shown a desire to work together and play attacking football, winning back the ball and immediately looking to push forward. They have shown that they can be really well organised defensively. And there has also been good individual technical quality. Whenever I watch these teams play, I think to myself: “What great work they must be doing behind the scenes!” Players of this age, with that kind of technical and tactical ability, aren’t produced overnight. There’s a lot of intelligence in their play, with their one-twos, triangles and movement off the ball, as well the quality of their crossing and shooting. More than one in two shots have been on target. It’s good for the future of women’s football, and I’m not at all worried about the future of women’s competitions.