Losing semi-finalists Spain and Korea DPR will be going into Saturday’s match for third place at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010 in differing frames of mind.
The inaugural winners of the competition at New Zealand 2008, the North Koreans have come up short in their bid to defend the title. Coming on the back of the failure of the U-20 side to go beyond the quarter-finals at Germany 2010 - a major disappointment for a nation that took the U-20 crown at Russia 2006 and finished runners-up at Chile 2008 - this latest setback is as unwelcome as it is untimely for the ever-demanding east Asians.
“We couldn’t make it to the final but we’ll be doing all we can to win the bronze,” said a tight-lipped Ri Song-Gun after watching his side slip to defeat to a technically superior Japan team in Couva. Judging by the dejection on the faces of his speechless players at the final whistle, however, coach Gun may have a job lifting their spirits for their weekend engagement at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Meeting them there will be Spain, who have acquitted themselves admirably in what is only the country’s second appearance in a FIFA Women’s World Cup competition. Understandably upset at coming so close to a place in the tournament’s showpiece match, the Spanish were nevertheless bristling with pride and intent following their narrow 2-1 loss to Korea Republic. "We’re down, of course we are, because whenever you reach a semi you want to go on to the final,” said a rueful Amanda Sampedro, the captain of Las Rojitas. “All the same we have one important game left. Third place is definitely worth fighting for.”
“We lacked a little bit of composure in front of goal,” said midfield team-mate Gema Gili, explaining the reasons behind their semi-final exit. “The team played well but we just couldn’t finish the job off.” Spain defender Ivana Andres, her voice still trembling with emotion after failing to prevent Joo Soo-Jin from scoring what turned out to be the winner, added: “The ball wouldn’t go in for us today. Even so, the coach told us he was very proud of what we’ve achieved here.”
A debut to remember
“A year ago, when we started on this adventure by winning the European Championship, we would never have imagined we’d get so far here,” continued Gili, aware that Spain’s achievement in the Caribbean is all the more notable for their lack of pedigree in major women’s competitions. “We should be proud of what we’ve done although you never want to settle for what you’ve got. We’re not going to stop here though. We’ll be going flat out for the bronze medal.”
Shrugging off her personal disappointment, Andres had a similarly positive take on Spain’s run to the last four: “It all began a year ago when we became European champions. Reaching a World Cup semi-final at the age of 16 is a big thing for me, and nobody ever imagined we’d go this far.”
Turning her thoughts to the weekend showdown with the North Koreans, Andres summed up the determination permeating the Spain camp, a steely glint appearing in her eyes: “We’ll be going out there like we always do: going for everything right from the kick-off, pressurising the opposition and playing our own game. Make no mistake, we’re definitely up for the bronze medal.”