“The hosting of a FIFA Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan is a symbol for the region and shows the world that football is open to all cultures and civilisations,” commented FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter before the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 got underway. “This is a place where East meets West.”
As if to prove Blatter’s last point, the final of the tournament threw up a meeting between Asia and Europe, the first in the competition’s history, as Korea DPR met France. The game marked a changing of the guard in U-17 women’s football, as the trophy, which has been in the possession of Asian teams for the last four years, was claimed by the French after their penalty-shootout win at Baku’s Tofig Bahramov Stadium last Saturday.
The final brought an appropriately thrilling end to a compelling competition that had begun three weeks earlier. Speaking at the opening ceremony, the President of the Azerbaijan 2012 Local Organising Committee, Elkhan Mammadov, said Azerbaijan would stage the greatest FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup of all time.
The tournament certainly began with a bang as international superstar Jennifer Lopez lit up the ceremony with her smash hit 'On The Floor', which provided the backdrop as the 336 players from the 16 participating teams made their entrance.
The opening day of the group phase seemed to suggest there would be another Asian name on the trophy, as Japan kicked off with a 5-0 defeat of Brazil, China PR thumped Uruguay 4-0 and Korea DPR romped to an 11-0 defeat of Gambia, the biggest-ever win in a FIFA women’s tournament. Thanks to that hat-trick of emphatic victories, the AFC was the only confederation whose teams had all begun the competition on a winning note.
The Far Eastern trio stayed unbeaten in the second round of games, though there were signs that the rest of the world perhaps had the measure of them. While the Chinese were held to a 1-1 draw by Germany, Korea DPR dropped their first points when France restricted them to the same scoreline. Elsewhere there were early exits for first-time finalists Azerbaijan, Gambia and Uruguay, who all paid dearly for their lack of experience.
Japan followed up their demolition of Brazil with a 9-0 rout of Mexico to become the only team to win both of their opening two games at Azerbaijan 2012. In the process the Young Nadeshiko also took their record goal haul from the three editions of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup to 54.
Aged 13 years and nine months, Gambia’sSainey Sissohore secured a record of her own in becoming the youngest-ever goalscorer in a FIFA world finals by converting her side’s second goal in their 10-2 defeat by France, who, courtesy of that thumping win, advanced to the knockout phase of the competition for the first time in their history.
France’s joy was USA’s pain, as they went out of the group phase on goal difference, an unwanted first for the mighty Stars and Stripes in a FIFA women’s competition.
The quarter-final line-up comprised teams from five different confederations (CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, CAF, AFC and UEFA), two more than was the case at both New Zealand 2008 and Trinidad and Tobago 2010. The OFC is the only confederation yet to be represented in the last eight.
As well as seeing global standards and the quality of play improve, Azerbaijan 2012 also brought increased attendances, with the average crowd for the group matches totalling 7,291.
*Giant-killing Ghana *
There was a major shock in store when the knockout phase began, as Ghana pulled off a 1-0 defeat of Japan, the only side to reach the last eight with a 100 per cent record. With the Chinese falling at the group stage, that left Korea DPR, 2-1 quarter-final winners over Canada, as the AFC’s sole standard bearers. It was changed days from Trinidad and Tobago 2010, when three Asian sides advanced to the last four.
Progressing along with the North Koreans and first-time semi-finalists Ghana were European champions Germany and the team they beat to win the continental crown, France.
Having already routed Gambia and beaten the Nigerians on penalties in the previous round, Les Bleuettes took another African scalp when they ended the Black Maidens’ run, both of France’s goals coming from striker Kadidiatou Diani, who is of Malian extraction.
In the other semi, 2008 champions Korea DPR reprised their quarter-final elimination of the Germans two years ago by edging to a 2-1 win against their out-of-sorts opponents.
Germany’s woes continued in the match for third place when they went down 1-0 to a Ghana side reduced to ten for the best part of an hour, the Black Maidensbecoming the first African team to take a place on the podium at a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
France also made history in seeing off Korea DPR in the Final, winning the country’s first FIFA women’s title, with their outstanding centre-half Griedge Mbock Bathy also receiving the adidas Golden Ball.
Azerbaijan 2012 began as it ended, with music, this time provided by Shakira and the infectious rhythms of her 'Waka Waka' hit, bringing an appropriately colourful curtain down on a wonderful tournament.
Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, China PR, Colombia, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Korea DPR, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Uruguay, USA
257,766 (8,055 average)
119 (3.72 per match)
1. Ri Un Sim (Korea DPR) - 8 goals
2. Chinwendu Ihezuo (Nigeria) - 6 goals
3. Halimatu Ayinde (Nigeria) - 4 goals
*adidas Golden Ball: Griedge Mbock Bathy (France)
adidas Golden Boot: Ri Un Sim (Korea DPR)
adidas Golden Glove: Romane Bruneau (France)
FIFA Fair Play Award: Japan