The 336 players on the starting blocks for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup must already feel like they are living a dream, but for many even greater heights lay in store. The successful paths carved out by several of their predecessors suggest that Costa Rica 2014 could be just the first step towards a career at the highest level – and possibly even global glory.
The tournament provides an excellent springboard for young talents, and that fact was amply demonstrated yet again at the recent Cyprus Cup. France's Griedge Mbock Bathy walked away with the adidas Golden Ball after her side lifted the trophy at Azerbaijan 2012, and just two years on the defender played an active role as Les Bleues surged to victory at the prestigious senior competition.
A few hours before that triumph in Cyprus, the 19-year-old from Brittany spoke to FIFA.com about her maiden experience on the international scene. "Without realising it, that took me to a new level," she explained. "I wasn't necessarily aware of it at the time, but that's what the people around me said, and I definitely felt it when I went back to my club. That win gave us a lot of experience and maturity. It motivated us to go after other titles, and it worked because we won the U-19 EURO the following summer. All of that encouraged me to keep on working to eventually win my first caps with the senior side."
As for Spanish goalkeeper Dolores Gallardo, she helped her country finish third at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, where she was also rewarded with the adidas Golden Glove. "It was an unforgettable experience and a very big honour that any player would love," the Atletico Madrid custodian told FIFA.com. "To play in a World Cup is the ultimate dream, and I hope to have the chance to appear in more of them in the future."
With Spain and France leading the way in their respective qualifying groups for Canada 2015, both Gallardo and Mbock Bathy look well-placed to do precisely that. Indeed, the pair are vying to follow in the footsteps of no fewer than 28 players who have contested a FIFA Women's World Cup™ after first appearing in the U-17 version.
Unsurprisingly enough, most of that select group disputed the inaugural edition in New Zealand six years ago, including Japan's Mana Iwabuchi. The playmaker made just four appearances before her side exited at the quarter-final stage, but she had already done enough to win the adidas Golden Ball at the age of 15. Three years later, she was involved as Japan clinched their unforgettable victory at Germany 2011, later adding a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Korea DPR forwards Jon Myong Hwa and Yun Hyon Hi were likewise involved in both those tournaments, having become regulars for the senior side after helping their country claim the global crown at New Zealand 2008. And one of their team-mates in those senior campaigns was Kim Su Gyong, although she made her U-17 breakthrough at Trinidad and Tobago 2010.
Other members of the 2008 vintage include Brazil's Thais Guedes, New Zealand's Rosie White and Colombian quartet Yoreli Rincon, Liana Salazar, Ingrid Vidal and Natalia Gaitan – all of whom have since earned a taste of the two biggest tournaments in women's football.
In Dzsenifer Marozsan's case, the Germany No10 finished top scorer and was awarded the adidas Silver Ball in New Zealand, where Germany came in third. She went on to triumph at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup two years later, and although she missed out on Germany 2011 through injury, and London 2012, at the age of 21 she was a pillar of the side that won UEFA Women's EURO 2013.
Of course, it is also worth noting that the road between the junior category and the senior set-up can also be a two-way street, as proved by Annalie Longo. She played just three minutes for New Zealand at the 2007 Women's World Cup, before serving as a starter for the U-17s on home soil a year later. Longo then returned to the senior squad for Germany 2011, where this time she spent 14 minutes on the pitch.