Given that the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup New Zealand 2008 will be the inaugural edition of the competition, it is still too early gain an accurate picture of the global hierarchy in this age group. European representatives England, Germany, Denmark and France will each be hoping to make history by becoming the first name on the trophy. With this ambition foremost in their minds, the latter three teams took part in the Nordic Cup 2008 which was held in Iceland from 30 June to 5 July.
Recently crowned European champions Germany and vice-champions France kept up their momentum by breezing through to the Final of the tournament, setting up a rematch of the European final (which the Mannschaft won 3-0). In spite of their eagerness to gain revenge for that defeat, Les Bleuettes were once again obliged to concede that Germany are the team to beat on the Old Continent. The game was only six minutes old when Nicole Rolser pounced on the first French error to set the Germans on their way. Intercepting a pass in the centre circle, the VfL Munderkingen striker left the opposition defence in her wake before winning her duel with Camille Desforges to open the scoring.
The French stopper and her team-mates, led for the first time by Francisco "Paco" Rubio who has taken over the reins from Gérard Sergent, never recovered from this early setback. A brace each from Ivana Rudelic (12 and 49 minutes) and Annika Doppler (33 and 57 minutes) made sure of Germany's fourth straight victory in this tournament and robbed Les Bleuettes of the title they claimed last year in Norway. "I'm very satisfied because we controlled the match from the first minute to the last," beamed German coach Ralf Peter after the final whistle. "We played well, linked up well, and scored some delightful goals. It was exactly how I imagined football should be played."
Meanwhile, the overriding feeling in the losing camp was that the French players had thrown in the towel far too early. "We were spectators, we let them play and didn't do ourselves justice at all," lamented Rubio. "We were afraid to attack the ball and win back possession. We were constantly on the back foot, whereas the German team were intent on closing people down and tackling." Perhaps the only positive for the French side, besides having reached the Final for the third consecutive year, is that they now have a clear understanding of what they need to work on in the run up to the New Zealand campaign. "The players have seen where their weaknesses lie and know how they have to progress, which is by getting stuck in to win the ball back!" explained the French coach.
Despite slumping to defeat against Germany in the Final, France nevertheless had an encouraging tournament. After stuttering to a 1-1 draw in the opening Group B match against Finland, Les Bleuettes belatedly found their shooting boots, netting four times in each of their next two matches, against Sweden (4-1) and the Netherlands (4-2). For their part, Germany will have trouble finding fault with their own campaign. During three Group A matches against Norway, Denmark and Iceland, the Mannschaft netted 17 times without conceding a single goal in reply. Their impeccable showing in the Final, when they breached the French defence five times without conceding, only serves to confirm their potential as credible contenders for the global crown in November.
Danes in doubt
Denmark, who will also be flying the flag for Europe at New Zealand 2008, have been left with no doubt that their standards must improve if they are to mount a serious bid for the world title. After a 1-0 victory in the opening match against the hosts Iceland, the wheels came off the Danish challenge all too quickly. Last May in Nyon, in the semi-final of the UEFA Women's U-17 European Championship, Bent Eriksen's charges narrowly lost out 1-0 to eventual champions Germany. However, that scoreline in no way reflected Germany's stranglehold over the match. In the sides' next encounter, in Selfoss on the second day of the Nordic Cup, Ralf Peter's protégées put their domination beyond doubt with a crushing 8-0 victory.
The Danes then stuttered to a 1-1 draw with Norway in their third match, a result which left them scrapping for a lowly fifth place finish in a play-off against Finland. Further disappointment was to follow with a 3-1 defeat, Amalie Holm salvaging some pride with her second strike of the tournament. The Danes will surely be hoping they can win more than just pride when they go head-to-head with the world's elite in four months' time.