Wednesday 10 December 2008, 17:24

Young stars shine at Chile 2008

The FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008 will be remembered for various reasons: it yielded more goals than any of the three previous editions of the competition, it produced the 300th and 400th goals in the tournament's history and it also saw USA win the trophy for the second time. But, above all, it will be remembered for the legacy it has left the host nation.

The Chilean government gave its wholehearted backing to the event, rebuilding four stadiums to stage the matches. Furthermore, the Chilean FA (ANFP) underlined its commitment to women's football before the tournament even started by supporting the creation of an exciting new league championship and assisting the women's U-20 national team with its preparations for the big occasion.

And although the Rojitas failed to win any of their three games and fell at the first hurdle, they delighted the local fans with their courageous performances, which bode well for the future. Likewise, the response of the fans throughout the tournament showed that women's football has its place in South American society, which has traditionally been far more supportive of the men's game.

Aside from this cultural advance, Chile 2008 also saw the United States regain the trophy they first won at the inaugural competition at Canada 2002. Coach Tony DiCicco, who guided the Stars and Stripes to glory at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 1999, worked his magic once more with a new generation of exciting talents spearheaded by strike duo Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Between them Leroux and Naeher also accounted for the three main individual awards.

The Americans sealed their return to the top in style, seeing off reigning champions Korea DPR in the final, who bounced back from defeat to Brazil in their opening game to mount a strong defence of the title they won at Russia 2006. Refusing to panic after seeing his side go down to the South Americans, coach Choe Kwang Sok was confident his side would shake the jetlag out of their system and regain the solidity that has made them so feared. Their subsequent progress proved him right and only the superior finishing of the US strikers prevented his charges from retaining the cup.

Time to reflect Despite making a winning start against the Koreans and sauntering into the last eight, the Brazilians failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time. Blessed with a wealth of gifted individuals, the Canarinha nevertheless showed a lack of tactical nous in their quarter-final against Germany, falling to a disappointing defeat that showed they still have much to do to compensate for the departures of Marta and Cristiane.

Their Latin American colleagues all have room for improvement as well. Chile, Mexico and Argentina failed to progress beyond the first round and will have to wait another two years at least before they can make the big breakthrough.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament, however, was the elimination of China PR in the group phase. Runners-up in 2006 and 2004, the vaunted Chinese kicked off with an underwhelming draw against Argentina before losing to France, with victory against USA's second-string coming too late to save them. Although their coach said they had travelled to Chile to learn, much more was expected of them.

One side who can be content with their showing are France, who finished fourth after reaching the semis for the first time ever. And it could have been so much better for the Bleuettes, who will no doubt be ruing a late and costly lapse in concentration in their semi-final meeting with Korea DPR. Even so, with Eugenie Le Sommer's intelligent play, Nora Coton Pelagie's goalscoring instincts and the strength of Marie-Laure Delie, the French have the potential to achieve great things in the future.

Japan are another side with grounds for optimism. The Young Nadeshiko's attractive passing game drew warm applause wherever they went, with midfielder Natsuko Hara the pick of a talented crop. What the Asians now need to work on is their mental game.

New Zealand also deserve an honourable mention. The Antipodeans are improving with every tournament and were only denied a place in the knockout rounds when England grabbed an injury-time equaliser in their final group game. With no fewer than nine U-17 players in their squad, however, the Young Football Ferns have their sights firmly set on Germany 2010.

Thanks Chile, it was great. Bis bald in Deutschland!

Participants Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, China PR, Congo DR, Norway, Japan, Korea DPR, New Zealand, Nigeria and USA

Stadiums and venues Estadio Municipal de La Florida (Santiago), Estadio German Becker (Temuco), Estadio Francisco Sanchez Rumoroso (Coquimbo), Estadio Nelson Oyarzun (Chillan)

Final standings

  1. USA

  2. Korea DPR

  3. Germany

  4. France

Rising stars Sydney Leroux (USA), Erika (BRA), Alex Morgan (USA), Natsuko Hara (JPN), Rita Chikwelu (NGA) Alyssa Naeher (USA), Nicole Banecki (GER), Eugenie Le Sommer (FRA), Tony Duggan (ENG), Rosie White (NZL), Ra Un Sim (PRK), Ri Jong Si (PRK), Kim Kulig (GER).

Fair Play award: USA

Total goals: 113

Leading scorers 5: Sydney Leroux (USA) 4: Ri Ye Gyong (PRK), Alex Morgan (USA), Eugenie Le Sommer (FRA)

Total attendance: 351.309