With the group phase of the fourth FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup now complete, eight unlucky sides have already bowed out, including the three Spanish-speaking nations, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. And while the trio's respective coaches have their own take on why they failed to progress, all agreed that inexperience and physical limitations were factors.
For the last year and a half Chile's squad members have put their tournament preparations before everything else, even work and study. Yet for coach Marta Tejedor there is still a considerable way to go: "In my experience, when you start from scratch, it can take between four to six years for a group to mature into a successful side. More than anything else we lacked experience, but hopefully this World Cup will be the start of a durable project." The coach has praised the commitment and fighting spirit shown by her charges in each of their three games, a sentiment shared by the home supporters, who not only filled the stadiums to watch them, but cheered them even onto the team bus as they prepared for their final journey home.
Tejedor's Mexican counterpart, Andrea Rodebaugh, laid the blame for her side's poor showing on the lack of a reliable infrastructure for women's football in her country. "What we need in Mexico is a very competitive national league. There are various regional and university leagues but they're stand-alone ventures. They must be consolidated. It's hard to compete with countries like Norway and Germany when the infrastructure is not in place."
Despite hailing from countries with rich footballing traditions, the Albicelestes, Tricolores and Rojitas are not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts, giving rise to the inevitable difference in their respective achievements.
Meanwhile, Argentina's coach Yasushi Kawakami preferred to talk about the positives that could be taken from the event. "Overall, our performance here was satisfactory, so I'm pleased. Even though our final two matches ended in defeat, our level of play has improved. We have a very young side with limited experience, but I'm satisfied with the effort put in."
Surprises and disappointments
The biggest surprise of the opening phase was the elimination of China PR, whose coach Zhang Giulai raised a few eyebrows with his assertion that the team had come to Chile "to learn". It seemed a modest aspiration for the Steel Rosebuds, who finished runners-up in the previous two editions of the event yet failed to show their customary fortitude in this year's competition.
Though already making the long journey home, it would be unfair not to mention what New Zealand achieved here with nine players under the age of 17. For more than an hour in their final group game against England, they had a quarter-final berth in their hands, even hanging on bravely for the last 20 minutes with a player less until a heartbreaking 94th-minute equaliser saw their opponents qualify at their expense. Their early exit seems scant reward for their efforts, but with so many promising youngsters in the squad, they could well feature prominently in the next edition.
CONCACAF champions Canada were also among the big-name casualties to fall at the first hurdle, although coach Ian Bridge was tempering his frustration with optimism about the future: "It's a real pity, but we have a lot of young players in this squad who I believe are capable of great things in the future," he said as he consoled his disappointed charges.
Congo DR were unable to improve on their record at Russia 2006, failing to win again and conceding five goals more than two years ago. More encouraging was the performance of Norway who, in this their first appearance at the event, recorded their maiden win, against Mexico. Even though the Scandinavians subsequently lost to Korea DPR and Brazil, they refused to roll over in either game. "We have what it takes to compete at this level," said a defiant coach Jarl Torske after their exit.
Be that as it may, but Norway and the other seven defeated sides will first have to qualify for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Germany 2010 for the chance to go one step further next time.