A decade of teenage kicks

  • The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup has enjoyed a thrilling first decade

  • Alumni include Mmes Bronze, Castellanos, Harder, Ji, Marozsan and Popp

  • David Beckham, J-Lo, Shakira and Xavi have been thrilled spectators

A wizard in a canary-yellow cape hornswoggled one Canadian into a lunge, hip-wriggled another three into hypnosis, and walloped the ball home from the edge of the box.

Marta was merely 16, short and slight for her age, a girl playing against adults – and 37,000-plus in attendance in Edmonton – at the maiden FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup (then a U-19 competition).

The Brazilian’s fireworks at Canada 2002, coupled with the performances of Cynthia Uwak (15 years old), Brittany Timko (16), Camille Abily, Cristiane, Candace Chapman, Anja Mittag, Heather O'Reilly and Alex Scott (all 17) against their elders convinced FIFA it couldn’t wait to give its first women’s youth tournament a baby sister.

The following year an official proposal was made for the creation of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. New Zealand, where Adriano, Landon Donovan, Michael Essien, and Pepe Reina had flowered in the boys’ equivalent in 1999, won the right to provide its primary platform in 2008.

Did anybody – honestly – imagine the first decade could have been such an enthralling chart-buster?

Its five editions have averaged a whopping 3.6 goals per game, with Trinidad & Tobago 2010 averaging almost four goals per game. Japan have, staggeringly, scored 3.77 goals per game, including the unbelievable Kumi Yokoyama effort which snatched victory over Korea DPR in the 2010 semi-finals. It was juxtaposed with solo goals by Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, and nominated for that year’s FIFA Puskás Award.

It’s far from the only wonder goal the U-17 Women’s World Cup has harvested. Others include the Lee Jungeun and Lee Sodam belters for Korea Republic in the 2010 final, Janae Gonzalez’s volley for Mexico in 2014, Tahicelis Marcano’s thunderbolt for Venezuela in 2014, and countrywoman Deyna Castellanos’s strike from kick-off in 2016, which came third in the following year’s FIFA Puskás Award running behind Olivier Giroud.

Breathtaking matches have also come in abundant supply. Korea Republic’s 6-5 victory over Nigeria in the quarter-finals and 3-3 draw with Japan in the final in 2010, New Zealand 3-4 Brazil in 2012, Korea DPR 4-3 Germany and Venezuela 4-4 Italy in 2014, and England 3-3 Korea DPR in 2016 stand out.

They’ve been watched by some surprisingly big crowds – among the spectators David Beckham, J-Lo, Xavi and Shakira. Ten U-17 Women’s World Cup matches have attracted over 25,000, with a record 34,453 watching Costa Rica-Venezuela in 2014.

Then there’s the tales the tournament has uncovered. From escapes from an orphanage and the jungle, to tourists at a five-star hotel grumbling because of Buccoo-based musical celebrations, to one education-strict country taking school teachers across the Atlantic to deliver daily study sessions!

Education is elemental, but the vast majority of FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup graduates are enjoying fruitful careers in football. Lucy Bronze, Deyna Castellanos, Sara Dabritz, Pernille Harder, Dzsenifer Marozsan – all of whom have been nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Player since 2016 – are among them. So, too, are FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winners Mana Iwabuchi and Morgan Brian, two-time German Women’s Footballer of the Year Alexandra Popp and Ji Soyun, who became Korea Republic’s all-time leading markswoman when she was just 23.

Other senior international stars include Andressinha, Griedge Mbock Bathy, Pauline Bremer, Kadeisha Buchanan, Izzy Christiansen, Crystal Dunn, Jessie Fleming, Patricia Guijarro, Yui Hasegawa, Jordyn Huitema, Ashley Lawrence, Lina Magull, Sam Mewis, Jordan Nobbs, Desire Oparanozie, Rosie White and Kumi Yokoyama.

Which starlets will take segment six of this captivating competition by storm? We can’t wait to begin discovering next week…