The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup was established in 2002 with a view to providing a platform for players to make their first step towards a flourishing international career. In that sense it has been a huge success. As a launchpad for future stars, the tournament - which later this year will see the 2016 event take place in Papua New Guinea - has well and truly proved its credentials
That first edition in Canada, which - along with Thailand 2004 - was an U-19 event, helped create numerous high-quality players. Leading the pack was local favourite Christine Sinclair who scooped both major personal awards en route to helping Canada into the final, and has become a genuine global star and the world’s second-highest international goalscorer. Also prominent were the likes of France duo Laura Georges and Camille Abily, USA’s Heather O’Reilly and Germany’s Anja Mittag. Add to the list a certain Brazilian by the name of Marta, and you have a bona-fide galaxy of stars.
Another player who commenced a fruitful international journey at Canada 2002 was Kate Gill, who two years ago became Australia's all-time leading international scorer - male or female - with 41 goals. Gill made a hugely significant contribution over 12 years in the Matildas shirt as a tall striker with a strong all-round game. She was a permanent national team squad member in a period during which the Aussies went from outsiders to genuine contenders on the world stage.
And Gill says, her experience in Canada as a raw 17-year-old was not only a revelation, but stoked her ambitions. “You have no international exposure at that age and only know what is in your back-yard,” she told FIFA.com. “We also qualified through Oceania, which was pretty low key compared to going through Asia now.
“It was one of those moments where you went ‘wow’, and realised that it was only the beginning and you could carve out great things. You only know your own competition, but seeing the game first-hand on the international stage was a little bit of an eye-opener. I took in the significance of it all, as did the whole group I think.”
Gill’s career included a couple of lengthy and prosperous stints in Sweden’s high-quality Damallsvenskan, while she twice finished top-scorer in Australia’s W-League. Gill was also named AFC Women’s Player of the Year in 2010.
And, Gill says, those players who visit PNG later this year for the 16-team tournament will be much richer for the experience. “The general experience of the tournament makes you appreciate the scale of the game,” she said. “Not having really seen the international stage before, it was a good introduction.
“But it was very much a reality check, to see how good the rest of the world really is, and how much dedication and effort you need to put in as a player to compete on the world stage. Seeing different styles (of football) also changed your perspective on things.”
Gill football odyssey has continued beyond the pitch and she now champions the game from an altogether different perspective. After a stint working in sponsorship for Western Australia’s football governing body, Gill last year assumed the position of Player Relations Manager with Australia’s Players Association. “I’m passionate about leaving the game in a better way that when I entered it, and this gives me another platform to do that,” she explained.
For Gill, that experience of a northern hemisphere summer 14 years still resonates today.