Meinert: We won’t always be this successful

Maren Meinert has earned a privileged position in the history of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Indeed, Papua New Guinea 2016 will be her sixth edition as Germany coach and her record is quite extraordinary – two titles (2010 & 2014) and 28 matches played, featuring 22 wins, one draw and five defeats – figures no other supremo in the competition’s history can match.

Even so, statistics will go out of the window when the reigning champions kick off their title defence on Monday versus tournament debutants Venezuela. spoke to Meinert, a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winner as a player in 2003, in the build-up to her side’s opening game. Maren, this will be your sixth trip to a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and you have coached a record 28 games at the competition. Does taking part still give you a thrill? Maren Meinert: I still feel that sense of excitement and I’m really looking forward to it. To start seeing it as ‘routine’ would be a very negative sign. A World Cup is the ultimate for any coach. This squad is different; these players have different qualities and it’s always like the very first time. In general, we might say that you can’t compare one national squad with another, while you can’t compare one World Cup to another, either.

Do you believe your experience could prove to be an advantage? I think it could be very helpful, particularly in tricky situations or when you go into games where it’s all-or-nothing. There’s always extra pressure in those situations. I try to get the message across to my players that this is the biggest thing they can experience at youth level. If someone doesn’t get excited by that, then they’ve done something wrong. We’ll enjoy this, however long it lasts.

Does it feel different to go into a tournament as the reigning champions? When you coach Germany, all eyes are always on you anyway. Everybody likes to say that we’re the favourites. We know how to handle that; we know what our mission here is. We want to keep developing our players and showing them the right path towards success. Whether that helps us to lift the trophy here or not, that is not our primary objective. What we want here is to get the maximum possible number of footballers who are able to tackle major challenges. And there’s no better platform for that than a World Cup. We hope that some of the members of this squad will soon be ready to make the jump to the seniors.

As with the other participating nations, the Germany delegation were met at the airport by a group of local people. How did you view that initiative? We thought it was fantastic because, when we arrived at five in the morning, there was a whole class of children waiting there just to greet us. It was really funny, as the kids were waving little flags. That shows how keen they all are to give a good impression of their country, through a sporting event like this. The people here are generally very warm and friendly. You can see little references to the World Cup everywhere. Everybody is working very hard and there are loads of volunteers. It’s nice to see how excited people are. They’re all doing their bit to make this World Cup happen.

Give us your verdict on your squad: is it better than the one from two years ago?It’s very difficult to evaluate something like that before the competition has started. Every national squad is different. It’s something that you see as the tournament progresses and we find out how they adapt . The secret is not down to how well you play; it’s how you perform in certain situations over the course of the competition and how the group as a whole evolves. And that’s difficult to predict.

Who do you see as Germany’s biggest rivals for the crown? USA and Japan perhaps? I’d include France and Sweden in there too, and perhaps other teams like Korea DPR. At U-20 level, making predictions is even more difficult, but if you have a good generation of footballers, anything is possible. There are a lot of teams that are capable of winning, which is good, because that’s what makes football different. First of all, we want to get through the group phase. After that, we’ll see. We’re tackling this situation with all the respect it deserves because we know that, right now, any team can beat us. Look no further than at the U-17 Women’s World Cup, when Venezuela reached the semi-finals, something that nobody expected. The group phase is no longer a walk in the park. Those days are over. If luck goes against you, you end up third in the group.

Would it be classed as a disappointment not to reach the final? Clearly, we haven’t come here to finish third in our group. Whenever Germany are knocked out before the semis, back in our country, there’s a sense of total disappointment. However, for me, the most important thing is what the players learn for the future. And there’s something that I’d like to make clear: we won’t always be this successful . At some point, we’ll get knocked out early, I don’t know if it’ll be at this edition, at the one in two years’ time or further along the line.