The history books may suggest that the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 followed a familiar pattern. USA edged 2010 champions Germany, and fellow heavyweight of the women’s game, in the decider to claim their third crown - one more with than their rivals - with only Korea DPR breaking the hegemony six years ago in Russia.
However, a number of teams appeared capable of winning passage to the final in what was an even competition, aside from several hefty defeats suffered by South American qualifiers Argentina. Notably, group winners Nigeria, Korea DPR and hosts Japan all impressed at times, only to eventually fall by the wayside.
Much of the tournament’s narrative was intertwined with the host nation. The Young Nadeshiko’s impressive possession game, and their charge to the semi-finals, captured massive media attention and made unlikely stars of Yoko Tanaka and Hanae Shibata. Massive crowds too attended the knockout stage matches at Tokyo’s National Stadium with the momentum built up by victory at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, clear to see. Significant too, was the fact that two of Japan’s group matches were played in Miyagi, an area devastated by last year’s Great East Earthquake.
Battle for survival
Group A proved to be an intriguing mix of football styles with the hosts joined by Switzerland, New Zealand and Mexico. The latter two fought it out for second spot behind Japan, who shone from the start with a 4-1 victory over Mexico. But ultimately Mexico, coached by the venerable Leonardo Cuellar, outlasted the Kiwis, who can nevertheless take solace from a mature performance, which included a draw against Japan. Mexico could easily have gone on to appear in a maiden semi-final, only to fall to Nigeria in an epic extra-time quarter-final contest.
Saitama-based Group B saw Italy and Brazil fall by the wayside, with the latter disappointing again after also failing to reach the knockout stage at Germany 2010. An experienced Nigeria, containing several veterans from their run to the final two years ago, and a stylish Korea Republic, both claimed well-deserved passage to the last eight. The Koreans, however, were eliminated at that stage after they, and fellow east Asians Japan produced one of the matches of the tournament with the hosts triumphing 3-1.
Further south in Kobe, former winners Korea DPR were an efficient and well-drilled team, who impressed by seeing off two high-quality teams in Canada and Norway, sandwiched either side of a record-breaking 9-0 victory over Argentina. Norway, fielding a number of bright prospects, played with verve in the group stage, only to crash to a 4-0 defeat against Germany in the quarter-finals.
Unusually USA and Germany were drawn together, with the latter clear 3-0 victors in their group stage contest in Hiroshima. The pair proved far too strong for both China PR and Ghana, although both were valiant in defeat. USA went onto edge a hard-fought extra-time win over Korea DPR, the only group winner to fall in the opening round of the knockout stage.
And then there were four...
Japan and Germany faced off in the semi-final with the hosts finding themselves three goals down inside the opening 20 minutes rendering the contest effectively over, before they had the chance to fully test the champions’ defence with their trademark passing game. USA had a far harder time of things before seeing off Nigeria 2-0.
Germany, remarkably, progressed to the final without conceding a goal in their five matches and, having powered past USA in the group stage, were clear favourites. However, Kealia Ohai’s lone strike edged USA home in a tough and high intensity contest befitting of these two great rivals. Steve Swanson’s resilient Stars and Stripes ultimately overcoming three group winners to claim glory.
Germany, though, collected two major awards with Dzsenifer Marozsan, already an established star with the senior national team, collecting the adidas Golden Ball as the best player at Japan 2012. Marozsan’s team-mate Laura Benkarth was named adidas Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper. Korea DPR’s Kim Un Hwa picked up the adidas Golden Boot for her seven goals, which including a record-equalling five against Argentina. Japan, victors in the match for third place, were somewhat appropriate winners of the FIFA Fair Play Award, in a tournament that enjoyed commendable sporting values from start to finish.
Official FIFA Awards
adidas Golden Ball - Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany)
adidas Silver Ball - Hanae Shibata (Japan)
adidas Bronze Ball - Julie Johnston (USA)
adidas Golden Boot - Kim Un Hwa (Korea DPR)
adidas Silver Boot – Yoko Tanaka (Japan)
adidas Bronze Boot – Lena Lotzen (Germany)
adidas Golden Glove - Laura Benkarth (Germany)
FIFA Fair Play Award – Japan
5 Korea DPR
7 Korea Republic
9 New Zealand
10 China PR