A successful FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is heading for an exciting conclusion on Saturday with a final featuring heavyweights USA and Germany. Overseeing each and every match at Japan 2012 has been FIFA’s Technical Study Group, led on this occasion by the respected and popular Vera Pauw. The former Netherlands and Russia coach tells FIFA.com of her observations from the tournament, and says that teamwork is crucial to success in the rapidly developing world of women’s football.
FIFA.com: What are general impressions of the tournament so far?
Vera Pauw: What we see now is that all teams have developed in basic organisation and basic idea of how they want to play the game. Japan and Germany have increased the gap on some of the other teams. They are now at the level where they can react to what is happening on the pitch, and they can act with a common perception. In other words, these teams have a similar advanced level of reacting to any situation they face. They anticipate and act in unison, but I would say that is not often the case with other teams. With Japan, we see if something is happening on one side of the pitch, there is also a reaction on the other side. With Germany the structure is very clear and the players are very clear on the tasks they have.
Has it been an enjoyable tournament to watch from a tactical perspective?
Yes, it is fantastic to see the fast development of the age-group players, especially in terms of teamwork. The last stage of the development of good players is their ability to swiftly interpret and anticipate what they perceive within their role in the team. There was great improvement in on-field reactions at the Women’s World Cup last year in Germany, so that indicates the influence on nations’ youth development programmes.
What tactical developments have we seen at Japan 2012?
What we have seen is that the top teams have better common perceptions in terms of anticipation in a match situation.
And what about technical standards?
Actions with the ball are more effective with improved knowledge of the game. This means that the teams that only rely on mastering the ball, do not have enough anymore. We have seen that here with Brazil. In the past they could dominate with individual skill, but now they must improve their teamwork to come back to the top level.
What do you make of the Asian teams at the tournament, and their largely possession-based style of play?
The options you have influence your development. So if you are strong and big you invariably take advantage of those factors. Japan have chosen to play a style that suits their capabilities. However, if USA tried to play Japan’s style or vice-versa, they would both not perform. The main analysis out of the  World Cup was that all nations are developing in relation to their own particular football culture and capacities. Japan are rising now because they have found their own solutions, which is what makes them strong.
Does the success of the Asian teams indicate that technique is more important than physicality?
Technique can only be judged and fine-tuned within the context of game situations. Japan compensate for a lack of physical strength by fully utilising their capacities. They are very good in their teamwork and that is the key point. They have a high level of technique, which is only coming because they are training within their individual tasks within the game. No one can say that Brazil lacked technical ability with the ball, although they lacked technical ability without the ball, such as closing down, running off the ball, etc. Japan never say ‘we train more on technique’, they say ‘we found our own way’. And their own way, and their own strength, is teamwork. The specific technical skills for their game develop accordingly.
How much improvement have we seen in the U-20 Women’s World Cup over recent tournaments?
Apart from the odd exception, all the teams are improving. The level of play used to be more focused individually. In Chile  we saw the level of team organisation become dominant. In Germany  we could see the players become more knowledgeable about their individual tasks. Execution is much more efficient than in 2010, and again, that is down to better teamwork.
What is the future for women’s football?
At the top level all the other teams will follow those at the very top, that is inevitable. If you want to close the gap at the top, you have to develop through teamwork. From this youth tournament, I expect that many youth development programmes will improve and a lot of teams will study how to get closer to the top-level teams.