Less than four weeks remain until the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 in Chile. Holders Korea DPR will have their work cut out to defend their crown against a strong starting field, including a German side with realistic ambitions of glory.
The young German squad is coached by distinguished former international Maren Meinert. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the 35-year-old discussed her targets and the burden of expectation on her team, the right approach to the opening match, and the widely-held view that German women’s teams rely almost exclusively on physical strength and robustness.
FIFA.com: Maren Meinert, the senior German women have won the FIFA Women’s World Cup twice in a row and are also reigning European champions. German youth development programmes are held up as the gold standard around the world. Based on all this, your team must be runaway favourites for Chile 2008. Would you agree?
Maren Meinert: Even in this age group, the top performers are so evenly-matched and spread right across the world that form on the day will decide it. However, I have no complaints when people say we’re among the favourites. We’re proud of being leaders. After all, it’s the product of a lot of hard work. We try and offer our most talented youngsters the best-possible development path, and we’re pretty good at that.
Are your players aware of an increasing pressure to succeed?
I think young players have one major advantage: all you’re thinking about is playing well and having a good tournament, you’re definitely not affected by pressure. My players are looking forward to Chile, looking forward to it a lot actually. It’ll definitely be a massive experience for them.
You’ve put your faith in a very young team for these finals.
Yes, that’s true. Obviously, we’re taking a long-term perspective. Around half my squad appeared at the U-19 European championship 2008 in France. It’s completely justifiable, in our opinion, because our 1990-born year group is exceptional. However, our decisions aren’t fundamentally based on age, but on quality.
Which of your players should we be keeping an eye out for in Chile?
I don’t agree with singling out individuals, although we obviously have a clutch of players with good experience from trial training with the seniors, the likes of Bianca Schmidt, Kim Kulig, Nadine Kessler and Isabel Kerschowski. But let me make this clear: we’ll only deliver the goods in Chile with 21 top-class players.
Taking you up on that, how would you define “delivering the goods”? Do you mean winning the trophy?
“Delivering the goods” has a number of components. We start with the group stage, whereby reaching the next round isn’t our definitive and final target, but you obviously have to take each game as it comes. Once we’ve managed that, we’ll obviously want to stay there right to the end. The pre-tournament situation is basically clear enough. We’re among the favourites, we’d like a say in the destination of the trophy, and we needn’t be afraid of anyone.
That said, you have not been drawn in an easy group...
Very, very true. We open against the Democratic Republic of Congo. Everyone thinks it’ll be easy, but it won’t be. Congo are extremely tricky opponents, who only lost narrowly to the USA recently. And let’s not forget we lost our opening match to North Korea at the last U-20 Women’s World Cup in Russia two years ago. That’s mustn’t happen again. We have to give it 100 percent in the very first match.
How would you rate your other two group opponents?
The Japanese are technically strong and well-organised. They like to keep it on the floor and get it forward quickly. I’m sure it’ll be a very good game and I’m really looking forward to it, although I’m optimistic about our chances of winning. By contrast, Canada are a very uncomfortable proposition, as they’re physically strong and good in the air. We’re not used to that. We respect them, but we need to impose our superior footballing skills on the match.
So are you saying you team’s main weapon is superior skill? That would be interesting given that German women’s football is basically feared around the world for physical robustness and athleticism...
We are most definitely a technically strong team. I honestly can’t understand why we’d only be respected for physical strength. All German FA women’s teams are technically very strong. Our development programme places great emphasis on technique, and less on physique. That’s exactly what we want to demonstrate in Chile.
What kind of atmosphere are you expecting at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup?
I’m sure Chile 2008 will be a terrific event. And I’m hoping the large German ex-pat community there will turn out and support us in numbers.