Amidst all the post-World Cup fallout from South Africa, the women’s U-20 version of the competition has gone somewhat unnoticed as 16 of the world’s best women’s sides have converged on Germany to battle it out for this prestigious title.
With the semi-finals set to get under way on Thursday afternoon, we run the rule over the tournament so far and assess the various performances of the competing nations.
Germany – Topped the group with ease, strolling to three comfortable victories and racking up 11 goals in the process. The prowess of 19 year-old striker Alexandra Popp in front of goal has proved crucial, the Germans overcoming North Korea 2-0 in their quarter-final setting up a clash with South Korea in the last four on home soil.
Colombia – Qualified from the group in second place despite some indifferent form, but turned their fortunes around with an excellent quarter-final performance against Sweden. The Colombians, ranked 38th in the world for women’s football, will now face an in-form Nigeria in the semi-finals.
France – Crashed out at the first hurdle despite their lofty standing in the women’s game (remind you of anything?). The performances of Marina Makanza were one of a very limited number of causes for optimism.
Costa Rica – Struggled to impose themselves on the competition despite early promise as they ran the Germans close in the tournament’s opening game.
Sweden – Lived up to their billing with some impressive performances in the group phase, Antonia Goransson’s goals helping the Swedes to defeat both New Zealand and Korea DPR. However, the team faltered in the last eight and crashed out at the hands of Colombia.
Korea DPR – Although the North Koreans are a relatively well-established force in the women’s game, few expected them to progress from a pool containing Sweden and Brazil. Their victories over Brazil and New Zealand demonstrated just how quickly the sport is progressing in the country, the Koreans also putting up a good but ultimately unsuccessful fight against Germany in the last eight.
Brazil – A hugely disappointing tournament for the team ranked 3rd in the world. They never quite recovered from their opening game defeat to DPR Korea and only really found their feet in their last match against New Zealand. A backward step for the South Americans.
New Zealand – Lacked the required quality in what was an incredibly competitive group. Not outclassed, but didn’t threaten to beat any of their more illustrious opponents.
Mexico – Exceeded expectations to top Group C, beating England and holding both Nigeria and Japan to hard-fought draws. Eliminated by an impressive South Korea in the quarter-finals, but the Mexicans did much to enhance their reputation during their time in Germany.
Nigeria – The surprise package of the tournament, the Nigerians were consistent in the group phase before producing arguably the performance of the competition to eliminate the USA on penalties in the last eight. They now face Colombia in the semi-finals and certainly look good enough to claim the country’s first women’s title outside of Africa.
Japan – Impressed against England in their final game but were otherwise underwhelming, particularly when you consider the great reputation Japan has in women’s football. Their bad start against Nigeria, a game they eventually went on to lose 2-1, really cost them.
England – Although the women’s senior team may have made great strides of improvement in recent times, it looks as though their U-20 colleagues may have some way to go before they are able to graduate up to the top level. A 1-1 draw with Nigeria was the best result the team could muster in a group they would have been confident of progressing from.
United States – The favourites came through the group with ease following victories over Switzerland and South Korea before surprisingly crashing out at the hands of Nigeria in the quarter-finals. This generation of American women footballers looks efficient enough, but is – the excellent Sydney Leroux aside – perhaps lacking something in the way of star quality.
South Korea – Overcame Ghana with an emphatic 4-2 win in their second game, the result which all but secured their place in the knock-out stages. Impressed in their quarter-final against Mexico, running out 3-1 winners, but will face a stern test in the last four when they come up against a German side now the favourites to take the title.
Ghana – Ghanaian women’s football has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years thanks to an association willing to pump money into its development, but The Black Princesses will be disappointed not to have gone further in the competition. A win against Switzerland and a draw with the United States showed the best of this team, but the heavy defeat to South Korea undid all of their good work.
Switzerland – A very poor tournament for the Swiss, failing to score, losing all three of their games and leaking 11 goals in total. Thoroughly outclassed.
7 – Alexandra Popp (Germany)
6 – Ji So-Yun (South Korea)
5 – Syndey Leroux (USA)
4 – Antonia Gorranson (Sweden)
3 – Marina Makanza (France), Elizabeth Cudjoe (Ghana), Lee Hyun-Young (South Korea)