A victory for women's football
© AFP

Japan took the honours at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, a 21-day competition that proved to be one big party for the host nation. The Little Nadeshiko saw off Spain in a superb final that set the seal on a memorable tournament.

The two sides were fitting finalists, having played the most skilful and entertaining football of the 16 participating nations, providing proof of just how rewarding long-term projects founded on solid, targeted development programmes can be.

The unstoppable Japanese combined technical brilliance with tactical discipline, attracting admiration for their attacking power, defensive solidity and the speed of their play. Not only were they the competition’s highest scorers, they also conceded fewer goals than anyone.

Playing some patient and solid football, runners-up Spain showed how much their game is progressing and can take satisfaction from the fact that the only side that could beat them were the tournament winners.

The surprise packages of Costa Rica 2014 were Venezuela, whose unexpected success in finishing fourth was based on the merits of a talented and physically powerful squad that gelled into an effective unit despite their relatively short preparations.

Japan’s battle is to become world champions, whereas ours is to qualify for world finals from the CONMEBOL zone.” That was Vinotinto coach Kenneth Zseremeta’s frank analysis of the difference in the level and overall objectives of his side and the tournament winners. In spite of that gap, the South American outsiders raised their game at Costa Rica 2014 and narrowly missed out on a podium spot in a thrilling match for third place against Italy.

One of two newcomers to the competition along with Zambia, the Italians can take great heart from finishing third, the nation’s best ever performance in a FIFA Women’s World Cup competition.

Achievements and future goals
The first Central American country to host a World Cup, Costa Rica can take pride from what it has achieved over the last three weeks, with the tournament’s 32 matches attracting a total of 284,320 spectators, a new attendance record for the competition.

The local fans got behind their side and Tica revelation and captain Gloriana Villalobos in particular. Skilful on the ball, the immensely talented Villalobos thrilled her compatriots, though her compelling performances could not prevent the hosts from exiting the group phase without recording a win.

Development is now the name of the game for Costa Rica, as it is for Paraguay and Colombia, two other Latin American sides who also finished bottom of their groups, an indication that the region’s teams need to put well-structured programmes in place if they are to match the standards set by the teams of Asia and Europe. Mexico nevertheless took a step in the right direction by forcing their way into the last eight.

Unexpected exits and major breakthroughs
The biggest surprises of the competition came in the first round with the shock exits of European champions Germany and Asian powerhouses Korea DPR, two powerful sides who had been expected to advance from Group B but were edged out by Ghana and Canada.

Costa Rica 2014 also saw the emergence of some exciting new talents, with Japanese wizards Hina Sugita and Yui Hasegawa leading the way alongside Venezuela’s insatiable strike duo Deyna Castellanos and Gabriela Garcia. Italy’s Gloria Marinelli also made quite an impact, as did her team-mate Manuela Giugliano and Spain’s Nahikari Garcia, who impressed with her all-round maturity.

For the vast majority of these players, the tournament provided a first taste of major international competition. The experience is sure to stand them in good stead for the future and help them kick on with their careers, which could well see them become the standard bearers of women’s football in the years ahead.

Participating nations
Canada, China PR, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Korea DPR, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Paraguay, Spain, Venezuela, Zambia.

Ranking
1. Japan
2. Spain
3. Italy
4. Venezuela

Host cities and stadiums
Estadio Nacional (San Jose), Ricardo Saprissa Ayma (Tibas), Alejandro Morera Soto Scotiabank (Alajuela), Edgardo Briceno Baltodano (Liberia).

No. of goals
113 (an average of 3.53 per game)

Top scorers
adidas Golden Boot: Deyna Castellanos and Gabriela Garcia (VEN) (six goals and three assists)
adidas Bronze Boot: Hina Sugita (JPN) (five goals and two assists)

Awards
adidas Golden Ball: Hina Sugita (JPN)
adidas Silver Ball: Yui Hasegawa (JPN)
adidas Bronze Ball: Pilar Garrote (ESP)
adidas Golden Glove: Mamiko Matsumoto (JPN)

Number of spectators 
284,320 (an average of 8,885 per game)