When the FIFA U-20 Woman's World Cup begins in Chile on 19 November 2008, several European teams will need to make amends for their disappointing performances at the UEFA Woman's Under-19 Championship. Four of the sport's biggest guns, in the shape of Norway, Germany, England and France, all failed to live up to expectations, allowing the unfancied Italians to take the crown in Sunday's final.
The Azzurrine's success is all the more surprising given that coach Corrado Corradini's charges only scraped into the tournament as the best runners-up in the second qualifying round. However, that did not prevent them going all the way to the competition decider at the Stade de la Vallee in Tours, where a narrow 1-0 victory over Norway was enough to hand the Italian women their first ever European U-19 trophy. Fittingly, the goal that separated the two teams was scored from the penalty spot by Italy's outstanding player, Alice Parisi.
Italians too strong for Norway
Once the 12-day tournament got under way, it did not take long for the eventual winners to stamp their mark on proceedings. A 1-0 defeat of Norway in their opening group-stage match was followed by a 3-1 victory over host nation France to book their place in the last four. Once there, a convincing 4-0 demolition of Sweden had coach Corradini purring: "This a great boost for woman's football in Italy, especially as the sport still isn't so popular there."
In contrast, Norway's coach Jarl Torske felt his team still had a lot of work to be do, even after dispatching the highly-rated Germans 4-2 on penalties after drawing their semi-final showdown 1-1. "We must keep developing and working harder to improve our technical ability. Compared to Germany and some other countries, we still have a lot of shortcomings in this area," said Torske.
German heads held high
After a strong showing during the tournament, those involved with the German squad remained optimistic, despite their premature exit. "I'm incredibly proud of my players. They all performed very well. Within this age group, there's always room for improvement," said Germany supremo Maren Meinert. "The girls still have a lot of new challenges and opportunities ahead of them, and comebacks are as much a part of football as victories."
Despite boasting the tournament's top scorer in four-goal sharpshooter Marie Pollmann, the Germans were unable to retain the title they won last year. However, nobody can afford to write them off ahead of this year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Indeed, Meinert already has one eye on her side's bid for glory at Chile 2008. "Some of the players from this team will certainly be getting a call-up for the U-20 event," said the respected coach. "We'll be bringing a large group of players together in September for a training camp which will be geared towards the U-20 World Cup."
England and France flatter to deceive
After a disappointing few weeks, both England and France will have to redouble their efforts if they wish to head to South America with any confidence. Neither team finished above third place in their group which resulted in failure to progress to the semi-finals. In their defence, England gave a run out to several very young players while the French only missed out on a last-four place to eventual finalists Norway because of their inferior goal difference.
The fiercely contested group stages proved that the European game at this age level is becoming ever more competitive. With this in mind, we can surely look forward to a thrilling FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile come November.