After 13 days and 11 hotly-contested matches, the Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament Nanjing 2014 is over and the final positions of the six participating teams have been determined. Following Chile’s crowning at the inaugural Girls’ YOFT four years ago in Singapore, hosts China PR vanquished Venezuela in this year’s final to dash the visitors’ dream of a second successive gold for South America.
Home team China PR achieved an unlikely 5-0 victory over Venezuela in the title-decider, with Lu Yiliang’s young Steel Roses completely overwhelming the pre-tournament favourites under Kenneth Zseremeta, whose roster included six veterans from the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica held back in April. What was billed as an even encounter turned out to be a rather more one-sided affair that ended in a historic victory by the hosts, who recorded China PR’s best placing in a FIFA event. Despite only emerging with the silver medal, the Venezuelan girls themselves achieved the South American nation’s highest finish in a FIFA finals tournament.
With Trinidad and Tobago having finished fifth in Singapore, fellow CONCACAF representatives Mexico improved on their predecessors’ performance during their own tournament bow in Nanjing, sealing bronze with Daniela Garcia’s last-minute header in a 3-1 victory over Slovakia. Under the stewardship of former Tricolores defender Monica Vergara, the highly skilled and well-drilled Mexicans had earlier held favourites Venezuela to a 1-1 stalemate in the semi-finals, only to lose in a penalty shoot-out.
Although missing out on a medal, Papua New Guinea broke new ground in their second outing at the Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament. After collecting three defeats and no goals four years ago in Singapore, the Oceanian islanders made another barren start here in Nanjing, shipping 11 goals in their two group-stage defeats, but broke their tournament duck by beating Namibia 3-2 in the match for fifth place. A third straight loss did nothing to dampen the spirits of the southern Africans, who themselves scored two wonderful goals. Also worth a mention are Slovakia, who showed great promise on their maiden outing in a FIFA women's event, not only winning a match but losing narrowly to China PR on penalties after holding the hosts to a draw.
Football is a sport for the brave and this fact was borne out by the plucky performances of three goalkeepers in the Girls’ Youth Olympic football stadium. Ahead of Papua New Guinea’s second group match against Slovakia, Kurakum keeper Eileen Daviaga injured her middle finger injury during the pre-match warm-up, but went on to compete the full 80 minutes through gritted teeth. Subsequently during the second half of a fiercely-contested semi-final, Venezuelan custodian Nayluisa Caceres hurt her ankle in a collision with a Mexican player. Playing through the pain, the tenacious teenager not only saw out the remainder of the game, but went on to convert the winning spot-kick in the ensuing penalty duel. The same fearless attitude was shown by China's Shanghainese custodian Zheng Jie, who came off the bench just moments before her team’s decisive semi-final shoot-out against Slovakia, but showed immense skill and flexibility to save two kicks and pave her team’s path to final.
Not to be outdone by the courageous custodians, the finalists’ forward lines played their part in a thrilling extravaganza of attacking football. The Golden Boot winner at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, Venezuelan striker Deyna Castellanos struck seven times during the opening two games in Nanjing, laying the foundations for her second top scorer’s crown in a FIFA competition. Meanwhile, China PR set a new tournament benchmark for the biggest winning margin by thrashing Namibia 10-0. Striker Ma Xiaolan finished second in the scorer’s table with five goals, ahead of Slovakian skipper Martina Surnovska on four. Daniela Garcia was also in imperious form for Mexico, contributing three goals and four assists to the Tricolores cause.
Stars and surprises
The Nanjing Girls’ TOFT featured eight returnees from this year’s U-17 showpiece held in Costa Rica during April, whose World Cup experience was instrumental to their teams’ achievements. Vinotinto forward Castellanos was the most dazzling starlet on show at Nanjing’s Wutaishan stadium, while Mexico captain Montserrat Hernandez and defensive team-mate Kimberly Rodriguez also served a pivotal role in the North Americans’ charge to the bronze medal. China PR skipper Zhao Yujie and winger Jin Kun rapidly grew in stature as the Games progressed and are destined to become key players in the Steel Roses’ senior setup.
No less impressive was Slovakia’s attack-minded midfielder Martina Surnovska, who showcased her own star potential with some inspiring displays for the central Europeans. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea’s diminutive forward Bellinda Giada belied her 1.55 metre-tall frame by netting a brace against Namibia and promises to be a driving force in the future of Oceanian football.
"We were confident of overcoming our opponents in the final, but I didn’t expect the process to go so smoothly. The players came into the game with plenty of momentum, so we completely controlled the match from beginning to end. We’ve already honed our own playing style over the course of our preparations and the tournament, and these players have bags of potential. The next task is the preliminary tournament for the FIFA U-17 World Cup and I hope the players continue to grow," Liu Yiliang (China PR head coach)
Host city and stadiums
Wutaishan Stadium (Nanjing), Jiangning Sports Centre (Nanjing)
No. of goals
56 (an average of 5.09 per game)
1 Deyna Castellanos (VEN): 7 goals and 1 assist
2 Ma Xiaolan (CHN): 5 goals and 1 assist
3 Martina Surnovska (SVK): 4 goals and 0 assists
FIFA Fair Play Trophy
Number of spectators
67,190 (an average of 6108 per game)