Leonie Doege has already plotted a route through the group stage of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016, as she revealed exclusively to FIFA.com: "It would be great if we finish top of our group and meet Jordan in the quarter-finals."
The reason Germany’s 17-year-old goalkeeper is so keen for that particular showdown is quite simple: Doege's Bayer 04 Leverkusen team-mate and close friend Sarah Abu Sabbah is a Jordanian youth international. Both girls have been reluctant to talk about anything else since the draw for this summer’s finals was made in May this year.
"We’re both so excited about playing in the tournament that our conversations almost immediately turn to the World Cup whenever we get together,” said Doege. “Of course, I was able to give Sarah a couple of tips for their opening match against Spain."
It was against these same opponents that Doege became a heroine in the final of the UEFA Women’s U-17 European Championship. "I’ll keep the images of that day in my mind forever,” she recalled. The shot-stopper palmed two spot-kick attempts off the line in the penalty shootout against the defending champions, helping her team to continental glory and heralding the start of their Jordan 2016 adventure.
Keeping a close eye on her opponents"I’ve got very good reflexes," the goalkeeper said when asked to describe her strengths, "but I wouldn’t call myself a penalty killer." Nevertheless, this newfound skill did not emerge by accident. "We prepare thoroughly for those kinds of situations in training," the talented youngster said, letting one of her trade secrets slip as she added: "I watch the striker very carefully and often pick up on little things like the way they walk to the spot, their body language or foot position to work out which corner they’re going to aim at."
When not studying or representing Leverkusen in the U-17 Women’s Bundesliga, the schoolgirl can be found in the gym every day, constantly striving to improve. "I’m not a particularly tall goalkeeper, which makes my match intelligence, eye for the game and athleticism all the more important,” Doege said. “I might not be able to do anything about my height, but I can always work on jumping higher."
With Germany traditionally spoilt for choice when it comes to goalkeeping talent, it is no surprise to learn that the Dusseldorf native looks up to one of her compatriots. "My role model is Laura Benkarth, who progressed to the senior squad at a young age,” she explained. “I admire her ambition and hard work. Those are vital qualities at this level and ones that I always try to bear in mind."
A unique cultural experience awaits
As Doege looks ahead to the U-17 Women’s World Cup, which begins on 30 September, she is most excited about the international nature of the competition. "The draw is organised so that every group contains four teams from different confederations – I think that’s fantastic,” she said. As a result, Germany will face Venezuela, Canada and Cameroon in Group B.
"Canada’s youth setup is exceptional,” Doege said. “Their senior team are among the best in the world and the Women’s World Cup 2015 gave the country another boost, much like it did for the USA. That’s why I’m expecting a tactically and technically strong Canadian side. Venezuela have some extremely skilled individuals in their ranks who can decide a match, so we’ll need to be on our guard,” she continued. “We might be in for a bit of a surprise when it comes to Cameroon. We’ll pull out all the stops to make sure we can keep up with them physically."
While Doege’s respect for each of her group rivals was clear as she analysed them in turn, she is also acutely aware of her own side’s strengths. "We’re capable of controlling a match and using our spatial awareness and passing game to dominate teams,” the shot-stopper said. “We don’t go easy on ourselves or our opponents in tackles and can switch the play incredibly quickly. If we can maintain our focus for the full 90 minutes and avoid making mistakes or giving the ball away unnecessarily, it’ll be tough to get past us."
As if that were not enough, Germany’s No.1 also knows how valuable the recent Women’s U-17 European Championship experience will prove to be. "We now know what it’s like to have TV cameras pointed at us during the national anthem and that we don’t need to let playing in front of more than 10,000 spectators bother us."
As this is the first Women’s World Cup for Leonie Doege at the start of a promising career, it is no wonder that she is already counting down the days, her excitement mounting each time she wakes up. With exactly three months to go, there are just 92 more sleeps until the first match kicks off in Jordan.