Crunch time for Germany, Canada

The German and Canadian camps registered starkly contrasting emotions on Sunday evening, with frustration, disappointment and long faces on the one hand, but joy, relief and smiles on the other. The second round of Group C matches at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 in La Florida produced a real shock result, as Japan defeated coach Maren Meinert’s joint trophy favourites to book a place in the quarter-finals. The result left Germany to face an all-or-nothing clash on Thursday against the reigning CONCACAF champions.

A draw would be enough for Germany to pip the Canadians to a place in the last eight, but the Europeans have still landed in the kind of pressure situation they had passionately hoped to avoid. For their part, Ian Bridge and his squad had precious little time to bask in the afterglow of a convincing 4-0 victory over Congo DR, as they too immediately switched focus to the decisive encounter in Coquimbo later this week. spoke exclusively to the coaches and a number of the leading players on both teams, finding an electrifying and tense mood in the camps.

Germans determined to make amends
"I hope my players can cope with the pressure. That’s the biggest challenge we face. We know we’ll take some criticism now, but my team has the potential to deal with Canada,” Meinert declared after the 2-1 defeat to the Japanese, fast emerging as the surprise package of the tournament. Following the unexpected setback, the former world-class player will now focus on restoring her players' bruised self-confidence, although in an exclusive interview a few days ago, midfielder Kim Kulig insisted the team was up to the job: "German teams are always under pressure. We’re used to dealing with it."

Isabel Kerschowski, Germany’s goalscorer against Japan, believes her side is fully capable of bouncing back, as the squad’s self-belief remains intact: "We’re really angry about losing. Straight after the final whistle, we resolved to think about nothing except the Canada game. We’ve switched our focus, and our absolute priority now is making the quarter-finals,” the 20-year-old declared. "I’m certain we can cope with the pressure, and that we have what it takes to beat Canada."

After a night to sleep on it, Alisa Vetterlein even felt there was a positive side to the defeat against Japan. "Maybe that was a wake-up call at exactly the right time. We’re wide awake now and know what to expect,” the keeper told, "I think Canada will suit us, and in any case, we have only one choice: we have to get a result!"

Optimistic Canadians
By contrast, the atmosphere among the Canadian players was positive and upbeat. Bridge’s team opened their FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Japan, "but we worked very hard in training, and my team reacted superbly against Congo,” the coach remarked. The North Americans were all smiles on Sunday evening, without for one moment forgetting their next target. "We’re delighted we have the chance of making the next stage against Germany. If we play like we did against Congo, we should be good enough to beat them,” captain Myriam Bouchard confidently told

Team-mate Loredana Riverso, who shone against the Africans with a goal and a number of inventive ideas up front, is equally looking forward to the pick of the final round of group fixtures in Chile: "It’s fantastic that it’s come to this showdown. We’re feeling good, and we’re ready. I know we’re strong enough to win it." The technically adept forward, who plays her college football for Purdue University in the USA, reckons Germany can be undone with route-one tactics: "We’re physically very strong, and we’re extremely good in the air. I think that’s important if we’re to hold our own against the Germans."

The head-to-head between two giants of the world game is the first major highlight at the tournament, a final of sorts, far in advance of the last match in Chile. Indeed, Germany against Canada was a very plausible ante-post bet for the Final itself, although as it turns out, it can no longer take place. Which of the two trophy hopefuls will suffer the crushing disappointment of an early exit?