If this week's first-ever UEFA European Women's U-17 Championship finals in Switzerland were any kind of marker, a new generation of Germans seems all but certain to preserve their nation's traditional dominance of European women's football.
A display of power, panache and ruthless efficiency from Ralf Peter's young side certainly reaffirmed their status among the favourites for this year's inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, with an emphatic 3-0 final victory over France securing a remarkable clean sweep of women's continental trophies. The French will nevertheless be rightly proud of rounding off an impressive qualifying campaign with silver, while Denmark - beaten by the Germans at the semi-final stage - bounced back to take the final place on the podium with a 4-1 win over England.
All four of these sides had already secured qualification to New Zealand 2008, seeing off the likes of Sweden, Finland, Scotland and the Netherlands to top their second stage groups and emerge triumphant from a qualifying field of 40. However, the past week's action in Nyon was always likely to offer the truest indication of their prospects at the global showpiece, and it was to no-one's great surprise that some familiar colours ended up adorning the trophy.
Popp tops the charts
Germany, impressive during a group campaign that had seen them qualify ahead of Sweden with a game to spare, were always likely to prove the team to beat, and Denmark couldn't oblige in the sides' semi-final. Bent Eriksen's determined young side did, however, prove their credentials at this level with a resolute showing only undone by a solitary second half strike from Dzsenifer Marozsan.
Yet even Eriksen admitted afterwards that the better side had
won, with the only concern for his German counterpart that the
favourites' territorial dominance hadn't been translated
into a more lop-sided scoreline. "We created a lot of chances
but were not clinical enough when converting, and maybe we lack a
finisher in the team," Peters said afterwards.
Had she been listening to her coach lamenting his lack of a natural predator, Alexandra Popp may well have been indignant. The 17-year-old FFC Recklinghausen forward did, after all, finish the tournament as top scorer, taking her tally to 11 with Germany's second goal in the final.
Marozsan had earlier capitalised on some defensive hesitancy to prod Peter's side into a 33rd-minute lead and from the moment Popp doubled that advantage with a powerful low drive 10 minutes after the re-start, the outcome was never in any doubt. Gerard Sergent's Les Bleuettes simply had no answer to the Germans' attacking thrusts, and after substitute Ivana Rudelic had scored the game's third - and best - goal, French frustration manifested itself in the dismissal of Caroline La Villa for striking Popp.
For Peter, nothing could take the shine off a victory that continued his nation's hold over women's football in the old continent. "This tournament is very important for us," he said. "German women's football is very successful at all levels, with the A team earning titles everywhere and the U-19s also successful. Therefore, expectations are very high."
Wake-up call for England
Sergent could at least reflect with pride on a qualifying campaign that had seen France reach the final stage with 36 goals scored and none conceded, and perhaps even more notably, on a 3-1 semi-final victory over England. Extra-time had been required to settle a match in which the Lois Fidler's Three Lions had taken a 46th-minute lead, but there was no question that the French finished the stronger, with Marina Makanza's last-gasp penalty sealing the win.
For England, whose preparations had been hampered by the squad's younger members' end-of-term exams - some of which had to be taken in Geneva - there will have been concern that, in both defeats to France and Denmark, leads were allowed to slip away. In the match for third place, a thunderous early drive by Rebecca Jane had put Fidler's side in front with only two minutes played, but goals from Simone Boye Sorensen and Amanda Marie Hohol had already turned the scoreline on its head before late strikes from Anne Thirup Rudmose and Linette Andreasen made the Danish victory appear deceptively comfortable.
Fidler, however, was philosophical in defeat: "This is all about lessons and we wouldn't expect this U-17 team to be the complete package at this stage. Every single one of the players have so much more to give and we will take a lot away from that... I think it's a real wake-up call for them."