At the close of 2004, Germany have gone a long way to eclipsing the United States as the pre-eminent power in the women's game. Their first FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship laurels, earned in Thailand in November, coupled with the senior side's rampaging run to the top of the heap at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003 surely have the Teutonic go-getters firmly entrenched at the pinnacle of femme football.
A competition packed to the rafters with surprises, fine play and marked improvements in overall quality from the inaugural competition just two years ago, Thailand 2004 looks every bit a watershed for the women's game. Join FIFA.com for a look back at a fabulous month of fine football from Siam.
*Germany, nearly perfect *Beginning their Siamese scorched-earth campaign in stunning style with a 6-0 drubbing of overly gracious hosts Thailand, the German's were a force from the start. Led by the goalmouth intimidation of Anja Mittag, the finals second-top scorer and third-best player, the Europeans were irresistible in attack. And with a bit of aid from up-and-comers Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi and super-sub-turned-full-timer Patricia Hanebeck, the Germans only real stumble came when outstanding net minder Tessa Rinkes let three in to confirm a fine fight back in the 3-3 draw with 2002 finalists Canada in their last group match.
But with two wins (4-0 over Australia and 6-0 over Thailand) and a draw (3-3 against Canada) in the group stages, the Germans kept on rolling into knockout rounds. In what coach Silvia Neid called "the toughest match of the finals," the quarter-final with plucky, much-improved Nigeria proved trickier than most would have suspected. Down 0-1 with only six minutes to go, who else but Mittag managed to equalise and force penalties. The Germans went on to win thanks to a final, crucial spot kick from the incomparable striker and saviour to march on to the semi-finals - where they thrashed previously flawless holders the USA 3-1 at the Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok.
*Shanghai Surprise* as China reach final **Many suspected the final to be a replay of the ultimate match of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Athens between the steady United States and brilliant Brazil. But football being a funny old game, the two entertainers were forced to battle it out for bronze in a humiliating 27 November under card.
Instead of the much-anticipated glamour tie, the final pitted Germany against surprise package China. With the Asians' once-proud reputation in the women's game suddenly off the rails, new boss Wang Haiming's tactical acumen and shrewd knowledge of his team's weaknesses and strengths may well signal a renaissance of sorts in the Far Eastern nation.
Never likely to threaten wonder women Brazil in terms of the flair, the organised and disciplined Steel Rosebuds played to their strengths throughout the finals. With a focus on counter-attack and stifling defence, the red-clad side were a tough team to master. After finishing behind Brazil in the group stages, the Chinese met up again with the Samba Princesses in the semis after surprising finals top scorer Brittany Timko and ten-woman Canada in the quarters. Many expected a mismatch - and that is exactly what transpired as Brazil's defensive frailties were laid bare in the face of a smothering, time-wasting Asian onslaught.
The final against Germany was a road too far for brave China however. With their 117-minute clean sheet streak gone after only four minutes, the myth of their defensive invincibility was torn asunder. And in truth the 2-0 scoreline could have been much worse for the spirited East Asians.
*Marta, Marta, Marta! *Short-listed for FIFA Women's Player of the Year, it was no big surprise that Brazil's Sweden-based sparkplug Marta shone brightly on the Siamese stage. What was shocking however, was the style, grace and overall dominance she brought to the table in her second FIFA U-19 Women's finals. After shining with the senior side at 2003's FIFA Women's World Cup in the U.S., Marta's smashing precision, brilliant ability and emotional bustle brought her hands-down acclaim in Thailand. A no brainier for adidas Golden Ball as tournament top player, she was head-and-shoulders above even Silver and Bronze ball winners Angie Woznuk of the USA and Anja Mittag.
Marked improvement from Canada
Thailand 2004 was considered a huge step up from the inaugural instalment of the competition held in Canada in the summer of 2002. With vast improvement noted by FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG), coaches, journalists and players, the competition stands as proof positive of drastic growth currently being felt in the women's game. Traditionally non-female footballing hotbeds like Italy, Spain and Russia all flexed a certain degree of muscle. All in all, the only side well and truly out of their depth were unfortunate goalless hosts Thailand. Nigeria, champions of Africa, showed their true colours with an admirable campaign. And Brazil - for years the talented, but disorganised queens of South America - again showed they are on one of the steepest improvement curves of all time.
Thailand, Germany, Australia, Canada, Nigeria, China PR, Italy, Brazil, Korea Republic, USA, Russia, Spain
- China PR
Elvira Todua (RUS), Ashlyn Harris (USA), Kun Wang (CHN), Akudo Sabi (NGA), Elena Semenchenko (RUS), Supaphon Kaeobaen (THA), Becky Sauerbrunn, Marta (BRA), Ying Zhang (CHN), Simone Laudehr (GER), Patricia Hanebeck (GER), Jang Mi Lee (KOR), Svetlana Tsidikova (RUS), Angie Woznuk (USA), Cristiane (BRA), Brittany Timko (CAN), Veronica Boquete (ESP), Anja Mittag (GER)
Rajamangala Stadium and Supachalasai Stadium (Bangkok), 700th Anniversary Stadium (Chiang Mai), Surakul Stadium (Phuket)
Number of goals:
92 (average: 3.54 per match)
7 goals: Brittany Timko (CAN)
6 goals: Anja Mittag (GER)
3 goals: Angie Woznuk (USA)
German goals galore. Over the course of six matches, Germany scored over three times per game (19), while conceding only five total.