As reigning champions, Germany will be the team to beat when the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 kicks off in mid-August. The achievements of the country’s youngsters in securing the title in their own back yard two years ago still live long in the memory, with the team famously winning all six games, scoring 20 goals and conceding just five along the way.
Germany are among the favourites to win this time around too, not least because they come into the competition on the back of success at the UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship. Just as importantly, though, is the fact that they will be coached in Japan by Maren Meinert, who guided them to victory in 2010. The 38-year-old has been in charge of the U-20 team since 2005 and has led the side to no fewer than three European triumphs and one world title in that period.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the 92-time former Germany international, who also won the FIFA Women’s World Cup as a player in 2003.
FIFA.com: There are just over three months left until the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup gets underway. How much are you looking forward to it?
Maren Meinert: Very much. The World Cup takes place every two years and we still remember the last one at home in Germany. It’s always a highlight for the players and the coach. We’re glad to be going and are preparing ourselves for it.
How do you and your players feel about Japan hosting the event?
I’m happy Japan were able to take on the task of hosting, as it’s not easy to organise a World Cup at short notice. I’m a big fan of the Japanese style of play and I know that women’s football is very highly regarded there. It’s always nice to play a World Cup in a country like that.
Germany 2010 is still quite fresh in people’s minds. Can it be topped?
The tournament in Germany was unique, and it’ll be hard to beat that. It’s clear that youth football is constantly progressing, so we hope that at least the attendance numbers and the atmosphere in Japan will come in just behind Germany (laughs).
I’m a big fan of the Japanese style of play and I know that women’s football is very highly regarded there. It’s always nice to play a World Cup in a country like that.
How do you analyse your opponents? It must be easier for the senior team coach Silvia Neid to get hold of video material...
The first game is difficult, especially if you play against an African team you might never have seen before. We experienced that at Russia 2006 when Korea DPR were our first opponents. They outplayed us, which was something we hadn’t reckoned with.
In general, teams’ fundamental styles of play don’t usually change. For instance, the Brazilian U-20s don’t play any differently to the senior team or the previous U-20 team. You can prepare yourself in some way for that. But principally we look at ourselves. Our aim is to train players, so we hold back on analysing our opponents. But in the rest of the tournament we will be working with a scout who will observe the other teams and help us prepare.
Who are favourites to win?
We’re one of the favourites. As hosts, Japan are up there, as well as Brazil and USA, who have a very good U-20 team this year. In my opinion it’s one of the best USA U-20 teams I’ve ever seen. And we also know there’ll be a surprise package. In Germany, Colombia reached the semi-finals. Who could have predicted that?
Is it an advantage or disadvantage to go into the tournament as defending champions?
It doesn’t matter, it’s not a burden. We’re happy to be world champions, but as a German team there is always a certain level of expectation, which is absolutely fine.
Winning the European Championship was obviously a great success for Germany. Is there still room for improvement?
To be honest, we didn’t play very well at the European Championship, apart from the second half in the final against Norway. We had a lot of problems. We were fortunate to beat Spain and had a hard time against Switzerland and the Netherlands. We need to improve defensively as we conceded a lot of goals through quick counter-attacks, while at the other end we lacked that cutting edge. On top of that, we need to work on our fitness in order to cope with the demands of playing in Japan.
In 2010 you had players like Alexandra Popp, who was awarded both the adidas Golden Ball and the Golden Boot for best player and top scorer respectively. What’s the situation this year?
A World Cup is inherently a good stage for players to make their cases. In Luisa Wensing, Lena Lotzen and Dzsenifer Marozsan, we had three players from our age category playing for the senior team at the Algarve Cup. It’s up to the girls to play themselves into the limelight. I think we have several candidates who will be able to make the step up in the medium-term. I don’t want to name names as I’ve come to realise that players can often take huge strides in both directions - positive and negative - in a relatively short amount of time. Each player has to be responsible for her own success.