The players representing the 16 nations taking part at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014 have two objectives in mind. The first is to help their sides win the title, while the second is to boost their chances of stepping up to their senior national teams and returning to Canada for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
“It’s twice as motivating for me to have the chance to win the world title this year and nail my place down for Canada 2015,” said France defender Griedge Mbock Bathy, summing up the double opportunity facing the players.
Canada coach Andrew Olivieri also spoke of a dual focus for the men in charge of the respective teams. “Our goal is not to win tournaments at this level; it’s to develop players for the senior team," he said. "But playing well, winning matches and going through the rounds at competitions like this will help us achieve that, so we know that one can come from the other.”
Advancing to the knockout rounds at Canada 2014 is the immediate goal for these youngsters, though only eight sides will make it that far. A handful of genuine contenders will inevitably fall by the wayside, especially with Group B featuring no fewer than four potential winners of the competition.
That daunting section includes the two sides that have dominated the competition to date: three-time champions USA, who were victorious in 2002, 2008 and 2012, and Germany, the 2004 and 2010 winners. Just for good measure they will be joined by 2006 runners-up China PR, and Brazil, who took third place that same year.
Losing finalists on home soil in 2002, Canada aim to do just as well at the very least in hosting the competition for a second time. The hosts face a tough challenge in Group A against Korea DPR, the only team to break the American-German stranglehold in 2006, tournament debutants Finland, who will have no pressure on them, and an ambitious Ghana side. Talking up the chances of the Black Princesses, defender Grace Adams said: “We have a team that can go far. We are strong enough to take the trophy back home.”
Though there are no former winners in the other two pools, there is no shortage of serious candidates for the crown, two of whom already have U-17 Women’s World Cup titles to their names.
Korea Republic will have four members of the side that won the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010 in their ranks as they seek to advance from Group C, which also comprises England, who are anxious to atone for missing out on Japan 2012, the ever-improving Mexico, and Nigeria. Semi-finalists at Japan 2012 and losing finalists at Germany 2010, the Africans are determined to go one step further this time around.
France’s squad features five of the players who struck gold at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, which should boost their bid to progress from Group D, though Costa Rica, New Zealand and tournament newcomers Paraguay will all hope to have something to say about that, even if their chances of overall success appear to be slim.
“Physically the girls have come on a lot since the South American qualifiers, and we’ve also made progress in terms of our technique and tactics,” said Albirroja coach Julio Carlos Gomez. “If you don’t dream, you die, and our dream is to be there as one of the four semi-finalists.”
The dream for the 336 players on duty at Canada 2014 is to help their sides lift the trophy in Montreal come 24 August and to earn promotion to their full national teams, not least because the Women’s World Cup is coming up in Canada in ten months’ time.
Mapping out the future for his charges, Brazil coach Doriva said: “The women’s senior team coach Vadao (Oswaldo Alvarez) comes along to watch us train and play, and the U-20 side has always been an excellent testing ground for young players looking to make it to A Seleção."
Echoing that view, Steel Roses coach Wang Jun said: “In the long term, we form the backbone of the China team of tomorrow.”
For all these young players, Canada 2014 and its four host cities – Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto – will see the start of what they hope will be exciting and productive careers. Some of the youngsters on parade in the next few weeks may even go on to become legends of the women’s game, as have Marta, Christine Sinclair, Louisa Necib and Dzsenifer Marozsan, all of whom graced the U-20 Women’s World Cup en route to hitting the heights.