Few people can match Tina Theune for exhaustive knowledge of the women's game - and few have made such a contribution to the sport's current popularity. As Germany coach, she led her country to a string of trophies between 1996 and 2005, including a FIFA Women's World Cup triumph at USA 2003.
Theune, named Germany's Woman of the Year in 2006, long ago handed the national team reins to Silvia Neid, but she has remained deeply involved with her sport as a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG). Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Theune looked back on the year 2008 in women's football.
FIFA.com: Tina, 2008 was an exceptionally varied and colourful year for the women's game. What stood out for you?
Tina Theune: It was an extremely exciting year. We had the first-ever U-17 Women's World Cup, which means the tournaments for female juniors are now identical to those for males. I personally wasn't in New Zealand - I attended the Olympic football tournament in China and the U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile - but I heard lots of positive feedback, including Franz Beckenbauer's words of praise for what he witnessed. I saw a lot of very mature players among the U-20s, and I'm convinced there's an extremely good generation of women footballers coming through.
Which players particularly caught the eye?
One or two were certainly setting standards. I was especially impressed with young USA keeper Alyssa Naeher, who always moved towards the ball, played as part of her team and created a really solid impression. She could be the first of a new breed of goalkeepers with much more advanced technical skills. In terms of outfield players, Naeher's team-mate Sydney Leroux impressed me with her spontaneity and single-mindedness, and I also liked Alex Morgan, who could well have what it takes to be a playmaker in the long run. Germany's Nicole Banecki has bags of potential as well
Who or what surprised you in 2008?
I'm bowled over by Japan. Their teams produce moments of magic and really win over a crowd. They're small and agile, immensely fit, technically strong, and good at both ends of the field. The Japanese have made us sit up and take notice, and they have their own unique style too. They may still have a little too much respect for the big names, but they'll soon shake that off.
What about the Europeans?
The Germans finished in the top three at every tournament in 2008 and have won the World Cup twice in a row, so they're undisputedly up there at the top of the world game. England and France have demonstrated they're forces to be reckoned with now, as both countries boast very good development systems.
Why are Korea DPR so strong at the junior levels, only to fade when it comes to the seniors?
They're exceptionally disciplined, and play at top speed. What is still missing is the experience. Nevertheless, when you consider their average age in the World Cup in 2007 was 22, you have to say they have real prospects for the future.
Are you already looking forward to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011TM in your home country?
Oh yes, and how! And I cannot wait and I am proud that the Under-20 Women's World Cup 2010 will take place in Germany as well. I'm looking forward to the attendance figures, because people are really going to be desperate for tickets. There'll be lots of fantastic parties, and European fans will travel the short distances to Germany in droves. I think it'll be a Women's World Cup the likes of which we've never seen before. Public Viewing for sure. And if there were players cards to collect in an album, I would buy them...
Are Germany good enough to claim the trophy for the third time in a row?
Definitely! One or two real personalities have retired from the team, but new players are coming through with the will and desire for success. Silvia Neid has made a perfect transition from one generation to the next, and the crowd has always been great anyways.
Finally, what was your personal highlight in 2008?
That's easily enough answered - it was the Olympic Games. I met lots of wonderful people in China, who were emotionally frank and open. I managed to think my way into the Chinese way of life. I remember one particular day when I just rode round Beijing on a bicycle. And another one when I took a walk at the Wall. It was also very emotional when I was able to hand out flowers to the German team and others at the medal ceremony.