After the host nation’s opening appearance on day one of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012, it is now the turn of reigning world champions Germany to make their eagerly awaited bow.
The Germans, who were crowned on home soil in 2010, are strong candidates to take the title again at Japan 2012. But they must first navigate a particularly unforgiving draw in Group D, starting with a tricky test against China PR.
Group C also gets underway on matchday two, with former champions Korea DPR taking on Norway, runners-up at the 2011 UEFA Women's U-19 European Championship and potential dark horses for the title.
Match of the day
Germany-China PR, Hiroshima, 20 August, 2012, 19:00 (local time)
Germany are unbeaten in the competition since losing in the 2008 semi-final. They followed that defeat by winning the subsequent match for third place, and recorded a further six victories at the 2010 finals. The Germans qualified for Japan 2012 after being crowned European champions at the 2011 UEFA Women's U-19 European Championship, when they beat Norway 8-1 in the final
They will be a difficult proposition for China PR, who are making their return to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup after missing out on the 2010 finals. Yin Tiesheng’s young charges, however, will be anything but pushovers. They are experienced, with two runners-up finishes from three previous finals appearances, and lie fifth in the competition's all-time standings. And, as Yin pointed out, they are determined to deliver in Japan: “We’re back at the World Cup, and our next objective is to get beyond the group stage.”
The Chinese also have revenge in mind. Indeed, their only previous meeting with Germany at a FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup came in the final of Thailand 2004, which the Europeans won 2-0.
Germany and China PR will both be keen to make a winning start, particularly given the quality of their other two Group D opponents. The other match in their section pits USA, the most successful team in the competition’s history, against the ever-improving Ghana. And in a group as competitive as this, all four sides will know they can ill-afford any early slip-ups.
A similarly tight-looking Group C opens in Kobe with an intriguing clash between Korea DPR, champions in 2006 and still a formidable force in the lower age categories, and Norway. The Norwegians, contrary to their North Korean counterparts, enjoy a strong reputation in senior competitions but have yet to truly shine at youth level.
The other match in the group is a head-to-head between South and North America, with Argentina, out to reach the knockout stages for the first time in three attempts, taking on Canada. The Canucks were runners-up in 2002 and reached the quarter-finals in 2004, but failed to make the cut altogether for Germany 2010.
Player to watch
USA’s Samantha Mewis travels to Japan with plenty of experience already behind her, having played in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010 and the inaugural edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2008. The young midfielder played alongside her sister, Kristie, in 2008, and helped the Stars and Stripes reach the final of the competition.
10 – The number of Korea DPR players who also appeared at the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. The North Koreans beat Colombia in their London 2012 opener, but failed to progress beyond the group stage after suffering subsequent defeats to France and USA.
“I played against North Korea in Chile in 2008. They’re probably the best team in our group. Last time [we played them], they were very tough. If they’re still like that, I don’t really know what will happen,” Norway captain and forward Kristine Wigdahl Hegland.
Korea DPR-Norway (Kobe, 16:00)
Argentina-Canada (Kobe, 19:00)
Ghana-USA (Hiroshima, 16:00)
Germany-China PR (Hiroshima, 19:00)
(All times are local)