In the immediate aftermath of the USA’s dramatic 1-0 semi-final triumph against Germany, Keelin Winters had little trouble describing her feelings. "I just can’t stop grinning," the US skipper beamed, and she could hardly have picked a more apposite phrase. Reaching Sunday’s final of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 in La Florida (Santiago) against Korea DPR meant not only elation, but also relief. "We’ve been working towards this for eleven long months. Now it all comes down to one match. That’s awesome. We want to reward ourselves with the World Cup trophy."
There can be no doubting the North Americans’ steely determination to recapture this particular trophy after a six-year wait. It is no secret that the pressure to succeed is self-imposed. "We insist on very high standards for women’s football in the USA. We enter every tournament with the intention of winning. It’s very important for our sport. But we regard the pressure as an opportunity," coach Tony DiCicco told FIFA.com, before issuing a rallying call to his troops: "We’re really looking forward to the final, where our target is simply to beat the North Koreans."
Winning the final would see USA restate its credentials as the world leaders in youth and junior development. From an American point of view, a clear signal in this direction became a necessity after defeat to the North Koreans three weeks ago at the maiden FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. "We’re not approaching this as a revenge mission, but there’s a steadily growing rivalry – a very healthy rivalry too, as football aims to bring people together," DiCicco noted.
The 60-year-old, who led the US senior women to Olympic gold and FIFA Women’s World Cup triumphs in a spell at the helm from 1994 to 1999, is looking to usher in a new era with his current charges. The U-20 trophy would be an ideal starting point, but DiCicco is brutally aware his team will have to do more than simply turn up for the final: "North Korea are the holders, they’re technically outstanding, and sure to be very well prepared for us."
Discipline and determination
The key players on DiCicco’s team are not lacking in belief ahead of Sunday’s showdown. "If we concentrate on playing to our strengths, I’m certain we can win it," Winters told FIFA.com. "I think the key to success will be maintaining our organisation throughout the match." The captain will have a pivotal role in this respect. A commanding presence in the holding role against Germany, she issued a steady stream of orders and commands, orchestrating a tactically flawless collective display and expertly defusing the pressure every time the Europeans attempted to rally.
The game plan for North Korea will be similar. The USA aim to beat the holders at their own game, by striking from a rock-solid and disciplined defensive platform. Of course, if you fail to score goals you don’t win matches, as the proverbial wisdom holds, but the Americans believe they have an answer to that too. Step forward Sydney Leroux, a four-time scorer at the event so far. The 18 year-old is a model of reliability at present , embodying exactly the desire and swagger DiCicco has been working to instil in his players: "We’re gonna win, ‘cos we’re U-S-A!"