The recently concluded FIFA U-20 Women's World
Championship Russia 2006 was an unmitigated Asian success story,
with the continent's two top sides confirming themselves as the
new standard bearers in women's youth football.
Korea DPR's coronation provided the biggest surprise of a spectacular three-week competition that illustrated both the continued evolution of the women's game and the emergence of some prodigiously talented individuals.
Read on as FIFA.com takes a look a back at the main talking points from this year's competition.
Koreans crowned, Ma honoured
When Korea DPR defeated reigning champions Germany on the opening day of the tournament, no-one knew whether it was a case of beginner's luck or the emergence of a serious contender for the crown.
Needless to say, as the competition progressed, Choe Kwang Sok's side dispelled any doubts about their potential with a series of efficient displays inspired by the likes of playmaker Kim Kyong Hwa, defender Hong Myong Gum and striker Kil Son Hui.
While the North Koreans were steering a faultless course through the early rounds, China PR peerless captain Ma Xiaoxu set about the task of leading the Steel Rosebuds to similar heights. Such was the contribution made by Ma to her team's cause, in fact, the player had the tournament's top two individual awards - the adidas Golden Shoe and Golden Ball, for top scorer and best player respectively - to offer some consolation for her side's second-place finish.
By the time the tournament reached its climax on 3 September, the two Asian sides found themselves in opposite corners in a reprise of the AFC Asian U-19 Women's Championship final they had contested just months earlier. On a night when torrential rain and slippery conditions did its best to put a damper on festivities, Korea DPR did not put a foot wrong, inflicting a painful 5-0 defeat on their Asian rivals to deservedly lift the world crown.
For the second edition in a row, the Steel Rosebuds could have
no complaints about having to make do with the runners-up spot.
Brazil bag bronze
The Canarinhas were dealt a serious pre-tournament blow when it was confirmed that they would travel to Russia without the mercurial Marta after her club side denied her permission to play.
However, even without their star player, the South Americans still managed to secure a creditable bronze, and in the process end an ill-fated sequence that had seen them lose the third-place play-off at the two previous editions.
Despite not showing their customary attacking flair - they scored a mere four goals in six games - Jorge Barcelos' girls battled through to the last four and finally secured a podium finish after beating the USA on penalties. With no Marta, the skill and speed of Fabiana were vital, as was the shot-stopping ability of goalkeeper Barbara, who was a key factor in her side's excellent defensive record.
Germany, meanwhile, were unable to replicate the glory days of Thailand 2004 and crashed out at the quarter-final stage against a USA side that improved steadily as the tournament wore on. Although the defending champions bounced back from an early reverse against the Koreans with emphatic back-to-back wins in their group, they were simply outclassed by the impressive US, who racked up a 4-1 quarter-final win.
The Americans' coach, Tim Schulz, made full use of his
squad, rotating his players without impinging on either the
team's balance or effectiveness. In the end, however, two
things prevented them enjoying a better finish: their inability to
turn spells of dominance into goals, and their misfortune from the
penalty spot. In fact, it was back-to-back penalty shoot-out
defeats, in the semi-final and match for third place, which denied
them the kind of success that, with a little more luck, could have
been within their reach.
Encouraging signs and a few disappointments
Another side unable to improve on their showing of two years ago were hosts Russia, who bowed out after a 4-0 mauling at the hands of China PR in the last eight.
Afterwards, a disappointed Russia coach Valentin Grishin rued the injury problems and fatigue which he said had affected his team's displays. Whatever the reasons, the performance of star players like goalkeeper Elvira Todua and striker Elena Danilova fell well below expectations, the former showing uncharacteristic nerves in front of her home support, and the latter failing to find the target throughout the entire tournament.
The elimination of Nigeria and France, while perhaps more dramatic, was none less painful. Late goals destroyed the hopes of both sides after closely-fought quarter-final ties against Brazil and Korea DPR respectively. Both, though, could claim to have been hard done by, and will surely feature prominently in future editions.
New Zealand's maiden appearance at a FIFA World Championship also provided grounds for optimism. Despite an opening-day reverse to neighbours Australia, the Kiwis came within a whisker of what would have been a deserved draw against the hosts, before eventually winning their first point against the powerful Brazilians.
By contrast, the premature exits of Australia and Canada left both sides with a sour taste in their mouths. Already experienced campaigners at this level, the Young Matildas and their Canuck counterparts arrived with great expectations, but despite showing occasional signs of promise, failed to even get past the group phase.
Two other sides who had hoped for better things were Mexico and Argentina. One win apiece was insufficient to carry the pair into the knockout phase, but their participation alone should provide an impetus to women's football in their respective homelands, where football has traditionally been almost exclusively male.
Also worthy of praise were Congo DR, who, in spite of the complicated situation in their homeland, managed to field a solid and promising side who made life difficult for such formidable opponents as the USA (1-2) and France (0-1) in their debut appearance in this tournament.
For Finland and Switzerland, Europe's final representatives, there was much to ponder after disappointing performances at Russia 2006 that owed much to some slipshod defending and a paucity of ideas in attack.
Russia, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, China PR, Nigeria, Canada, Germany, Korea DPR, Switzerland, Mexico, USA, France, Argentina, Congo DR.
Zhang Yanru (CHN), Val Henderson (USA), Hong Myong Gum (PRK), Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi (GER), Kim Kyong Hwa (PRK), Ma Xiaoxu (CHN), Cynthia Uwak (NGA), Kil Son Hui (PRK), Fabiana (BRA), Danesha Adams (USA).
Petrovsky (St Petersburg), Podmoskovie (Shchelkovo, Moscow), Dynamo, Torpedo and Lokomotiv (all Moscow)
Number of goals
106 (average of 3.31 per game)
5 goals (2 assists): Ma Xiaoxu (CHN)
5 goals (1 assist): Kim Song Hui (PRK)
3 goals: Anna Blasse (GER)
Average match attendance