Though yet to turn 20, a significant number of the players turning out at Canada 2014 already have valuable FIFA World Cup experience under their belts. The youngest of them were on show earlier this year at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, while the majority had their baptism of fire two years ago, at the U-17 world finals in Azerbaijan.
It was there that we first caught sight of the likes of France defender Griedge Mbock Bathy and Germany midfielder Sara Daebritz, just two of the promising players who have built on their displays in Azerbaijan to become permanent fixtures in their national teams and, in Daebritz’s case, a European champion.
In total, nearly 100 of the 336 players taking part at Canada 2014 appeared at Azerbaijan 2012 and will now be looking to excel themselves on an even bigger stage. And with the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ just around the corner, some of them will even be dreaming of making a return to the Land of the Maple Leaf in around ten months’ time.
The value of experience
Korea DPR and New Zealand are the two sides boasting the largest contingents of Azerbaijan 2012 veterans. The North Koreans will be fielding 14 in total, including their biggest asset, goal machine Ri Un-Sim, who will be aiming to walk away with another adidas Golden Boot, having top-scored at the last U-17 world finals with eight goals in six games.
The upcoming finals in Canada will also provide the watching world with an opportunity to assess the progress being made by the New Zealanders, who boast 13 FIFA World Cup 'veterans', among them goalkeeper Lily Alfeld, who excelled two years ago with her superb reflexes and coolness in one-on-one situations.
Staying on the subject of custodians, we can hardly overlook the winner of the adidas Golden Glove at Azerbaijan 2012, France’s Romane Bruneau, who saved two spot-kicks and scored one in the penalty shootout that followed the final, playing a crucial part in Les Bleuettes’ triumph. Delighted to be back on the big stage again, Bruneau has only one objective in mind: “My ambition is to win this World Cup. Lifting the U-17 title has probably made the team stronger, as it gives you the experience you need to face a tournament like this.”
Team-mates Mbock Batty, who collected the adidas Golden Ball at Azerbaijan 2012, and captain Sandie Toletti are equally as excited about the challenge ahead. Having already made their senior debuts and won world U-17 and European U-19 titles with France, both are understandably anxious to pick up yet another career honour at Canada 2014.
A second opportunity
There are yet more well-known faces among the Canada line-up, including strike duo Amandine Pierre-Louise and Nichelle Prince, of whom the hosts are expecting big things. Nigeria have equally high hopes of Chinwendu Ihezuo and Halimatu Ayinde, who scored ten goals between them at the U-17 world finals two years ago, an indication of their nose for goal and a possible sign of things to come over the next few weeks.
Another striker who has already shown the world what she can do is Brazil’s Byanca, who scored one of the goals of the tournament at Azerbaijan 2012 and left her mark on the competition with a memorable rainbow flick.
For a clutch of other players, meanwhile, Canada 2014 represents a golden opportunity to make up for the disappointments they experienced in 2012. Falling into that category are Luz Duarte and Taylor Alvarado, two of the brightest performers in a Mexico side that failed to progress beyond the group phase on that occasion, and USA starlet Summer Green, who proved one of the most exciting teenage talents on show two years back but also headed home early with her side.
The Stars and Stripes are the reigning U-20 World Cup champions but face a tough defence, one that starts with a Group B match against Germany, the team they beat in the final at Japan 2012. Die Mannschaft have plenty of Azerbaijan 2012 experience to call on themselves, with Daebritz, Rebecca Knaak and Lina Magull all in their ranks.
Though the stars of Canada 2014 have yet to reveal themselves, there is every reason to expect that the players who lit up the Land of Fire two years ago will seize the chance to shine once again.