France will travel to next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup as European champions after emerging triumphant from a keenly contested continental championship. Les Bleuettes will be joined by England, the team they beat 2-0 in yesterday’s final, as well as Germany - their semi-final victims - and surprise packages Finland.
Gilles Eyquem’s side were worthy champions, having reclaimed the UEFA U-19 Women’s Championship crown they last won in 2010 thanks to wins over the likes of Denmark, hosts Wales and, most notably, the Germans and English. It took extra time to see off Mo Marley’s Young Lionesses, but a pair of headed goals from Sandie Toletti and Aminata Diallo secured the trophy and left Eyquem glowing with pride.
“It is a great pleasure because the girls have put in loads of effort to achieve this,” he enthused. “This is a victory for the team and for the group as a whole. It is a very good win but for a good match there have to be two teams.”
England, the team to which Eyquem paid this compliment, made the short journey home from Llanelli with heads justifiably held high. There was certainly more than enough in their 4-0 semi-final win over Finland - not to mention a group campaign in which they finished ahead of the French - to suggest that Marley’s team will be well worth watching at next year’s finals.
“It is always difficult to lose but from a coaching and management perspective it doesn't actually feel like we've lost,” was the England coach's reaction after losing the final. “The girls getting here, the way they've conducted themselves, the way they've performed for the whole of the tournament; I've just told them we're really proud of them, we're really proud of what they've achieved.”
Finns flying high
The Finns, too, will have no trouble finding crumbs of comfort despite their thumping defeat to Marley’s England in the last four. Merely securing a return to the U-20 world finals is a major success for Marianne Miettinen’s side, all the more so as their place was secured at the expense of Norway and reigning European champions, Sweden. Their coach certainly had no trouble accentuating the positive.
She said: “The players would be in the wrong place if they weren't disappointed [by the 4-0 defeat to England]. But I told them that tomorrow, when we go home, we go as winners. We played three really good games and got the ticket to Canada, so we must be proud of that. This experience was fantastic for Finnish women's and girls' football. These players will be key players in the national team in a few years and it will be important that they participated in this tournament.”
Germany will also be in Canada next August but, unlike their fellow qualifiers, they could not claim to be happy with their tournament’s work. Not that there was an absence of encouraging signs during the group phase, and in the prolific form of 17-year-old Pauline Bremer, who scored six times to claim the top scorer’s prize with ease.
Nonetheless, the Germans have come to see anything short of victory at these tournaments as failure and, as such, their semi-final exit to France proved difficult to stomach. Left-back Manjou Wilde described the defeat as “bitter” to UEFA.com, while midfielder Rebecca Knaak felt that they paid for a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. "I think it was a really even game,” she said of the 2-1 defeat, “but it came down to us not taking our chances – we certainly had enough of them. Maybe we lacked a bit of luck."
Germany, at least, have the consolation of being able to atone for a disappointing tournament at next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. That opportunity will not be available to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Wales, who missed out on a ticket due to disappointing results in the group stage.
All four will now look on enviously as their European counterpart do battle for global glory in Canada.