Every top side needs leaders to win titles. So when hosts Germany launch their bid for honours at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2010, their hopes will be pinned on players such as Marina Hegering, a young midfield gem with the experience and character required to drive Maren Meinert's charges to victory.
"I'm incredibly proud, if a little nervous," Hegering told FIFA.com. "Leading Germany into a World Cup on home soil is a very special feeling. And I know the nerves will disappear as soon as the tournament kicks off." Pressure situations are nothing new to her, after all. Alongside fellow first-team regulars and stars such as Inka Grings, Linda Bresonik and Simone Laudehr she has already experienced some thrilling highs with Bundesliga powerhouse Duisburg.
Meinert's side have to be considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy when the best up-and-coming players in the world go head-to-head in Augsburg, Bielefeld, Bochum and Dresden between 13 July and 1 August. "Along with the USA, the Asian teams and European champions England we have the potential to go all the way," said Hegering, who can speak from experience. Germany's hugely promising midfield driver was in the squad at the last edition of the tournament in Chile two years ago, witnessing at first hand how the US girls emerged victorious from a very strong field.
"The atmosphere in Chile was fantastic, so I'm delighted we have the opportunity to play at home," Hegering continued. "With the crowd behind us, we can go a long way if we play to our full potential throughout." Germany took third place in South America in 2008, playing some fine attacking football along the way before succumbing to a narrow 1-0 defeat against the USA in the semi-finals. And Hegering believes the prerequisites are similar this time: "We have different characters in the team, of course, but otherwise we're on the same level. Our strengths still lie in our playing ability."
Out for revenge
Turning to Germany's group opponents Costa Rica, Colombia and France, Hegering remains as poised and businesslike as she is on the pitch. "It's always tough against European teams and Costa Rica did very well to knock out Canada in qualifying," she said. "Colombia, on the other hand, are big unknowns."
Yet there is one point on which Hegering, who won the Fritz Walter Medal for best young German player in 2009, does not hide her emotions. "I hope we meet Switzerland in the final and then exact our revenge," she said, referring to her side’s disappointing European U-19 Championship in Belarus a year ago, when they went down 3-0 to their Alpine neighbours and failed to negotiate the group stage.
To university on a high?
Were history to repeat itself, Hegering would have a job to do. As the calming influence in Meinert's team, it would then be down to her to put an arm around the shoulders of the more inexperienced players such as Germany's sparkling jewel, Dzsenifer Maroszan, an elegant technician and just 18 years old. "She can be the difference and isn't cocky at all. We're so glad to have her with us," said Hegering of Maroszan, who won the adidas Golden Shoe at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2008 in New Zealand.
Maroszan and Co, in turn, are just as happy to have a purposeful leader of the calibre of Hegering in their ranks. Germany's "alpha female" intends to embark on a course of study at the renowned Sport University in Cologne this October. "It would be wonderful to start my first term as a world champion," she concludes with a likeable smile.