A total of 16 teams lined up on the starting blocks for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Japan 2012 but, even before a single ball was kicked, Germany and USA stood out as heavy favourites for the title. Since then, results have only vindicated the pre-tournament predictions and the teams, both two-time winners, are now set to lock horns in the showpiece. All that remains is to find out which of the two deserved their billing most.
Before that game, another issue will be resolved as beaten semi-finalists Nigeria and Japan meet in the match for third place. The mission for both sides will be to bounce back from disappointment and end their campaigns on a high.
Match of the day
USA-Germany, Tokyo, 8 September 2012, 19.20 (local time)
It is the final that every neutral dreamed of, a showdown between the undisputed giants at this level. Not only have Germany and USA won four of the five previous editions between them, they have also taken a firm grip on the tournament's records.
For starters, no team has posted more consecutive victories than Germany's 12, while USA boast the highest number of total wins, their tally of 25 narrowly outstripping Germany's 24. The European side have registered 95 goals to the Stars and Stripes' 80, meanwhile, but it is USA who boast the strongest record overall down the years, with their upcoming opponents unsurprisingly second.
In short, they are the twin pillars of women's U20 football, but both will be viewing the final as a chance to race clear and leave their rivals in their wake. Whoever lifts the trophy in Tokyo will have earned the right to call themselves the greatest team in the history of the competition – at least until the world's finest sides meet again in two years' time.
USA's bid for glory will be based upon their supreme organisation and a midfield equally capable of keeping possession, helping out in defence and making the difference going forward, as demonstrated by the goals recently rattled in by Morgan Brian and Vanessa di Bernardo. The only problem for Steve Swanson's charges is how to exploit the weaknesses of a team that seems to have none, Germany having yet to concede on Japanese soil.
In fact, the European hopefuls have now gone six games without shipping a goal at this level – a run stretching back to the final in 2010 – while they have struck 15 times in their five outings thus far, Lena Lotzen alone scoring six.
As if the match needed any extra spice, the two teams of course met during the group stage, when Germany put in a commanding performance that yielded a 3-0 win. The Stars and Stripes will therefore be hungry for revenge as they take aim at the title.
The other game
Nigeria-Japan, Tokyo, 8 September 2012, 15.30 (local time)
Runners-up in 2010, Nigeria will have to settle for a less prominent finish this time around, despite having arrived in Japan declaring their ambition to leave with the trophy. The best the African side can now hope for is third place, providing they do not spurn as many chances as in their recent outings, having required extra time to see off Mexico 1-0 in the quarter-finals before losing 2-0 to USA in the last four.
As for the hosts, they remain heartbroken not to have been able to match the feats of Japan's senior side at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™. The Young Nadeshiko have nonetheless made history by advancing to the semi-finals for the first time in their history, and they will be eager to put a smile back on the faces of their supporters by taking bronze.
Player to watch
With one goal and a missed penalty against Norway to her name, Dzsenifer Marozsan is unlikely to end the tournament cradling the adidas Golden Boot as top scorer. Germany coach Maren Meinert will not mind a jot, though, as the Frankfurt forward is one of her most valuable players and can point to no fewer than six assists so far, including her exquisite through ball in the very first minute of the semi-final against Japan.
1 – Despite their rivalry in the women's game and their shared stranglehold on the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, this will be the first time that Germany and USA have crossed paths in the final of a FIFA competition. With Japan due to tackle Nigeria for bronze, it will also be the first time that the host nation have contested the match for third place.
What they said
"We have great respect for the Germans. We've played them several times over the last few years. They're very strong, very experienced and they beat us earlier in the tournament. They're well organised and know how to carry out what they want to do, but I hope we'll be able to repeat the level of performances from our first five matches and give our best in our final game," Steve Swanson, USA coach.