2016 has been a year to remember for Korean football. With memories of Korea DPR’s triumph at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 still fresh, the country tasted success once more at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016. “It’s a feat that’s never been achieved before,” said the coach Hwang Yong-Bong after his side’s 3-1 defeat of France in the final. “I’m delighted with our victory, but we can’t stop here. We have to keep on working to win more titles.”
Boasting the most prolific attack in the tournament with 21 goals, Korea DPR were in a class of their own in Papua New Guinea. Coupled with their enterprising, attack-minded approach and their tireless running, the Asians’ remarkable mental resolve allowed them to see off all their opponents. That durability was in evidence when Spain and USA took them to extra time in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively, and when France opened the scoring in the final.
That early goal gave the French hope of lifting the trophy themselves, until, that is, the Korean steamroller cranked into gear, preventing Les Bleuettes from replicating their victory in over the same opponents at the U-17 world finals in Azerbaijan four years ago, a game in which several players from both sides featured. “There was no fuel left in the tank,” lamented France coach Gilles Eyquem at the end of what was a punishing campaign for his charges. After earning two draws and a win to advance from Group C, the French held off Germany in the last eight before grinding out an extra-time win over Japan in the semis.
“The positive thing is that we’ve come up against some very good sides,” added Eyquem. “It’s been a valuable experience for these players, who I hope will go on to have success with the senior team.” On the basis of their displays at Papua New Guinea 2016, there is no doubt that the likes of Delphine and Estelle Cascarino, Mylene Chavas, Hawa Cissoko and Grace Geyoro all look to have promising careers ahead of them with Les Bleues.
Third and fourth respectively, Japan and USA had very different campaigns. Aside from the narrow defeat to Spain in the group phase, the Young Nadeshiko were in irrepressible form all the way through to the semis, where the French defence neutralised their delightful interplay.
The second-highest scoring team in the competition with 16 goals, Asako Takakura’s side provided another compelling and aesthetically pleasing demonstration of what Japanese football has to offer on the global stage. With Yuka Momiki, Mami Ueno and Hina Sugita emerging fast, Takakura, who also coaches Japan’s senior side, knows she has a new generation of players she can count on at full international level.
Three-time winners of the competition, USA have fewer reasons to be pleased with their performance in Papua New Guinea. After making hard work of qualifying from Group C, the Stars and Stripes needed a late comeback to see off Mexico in the last eight before succumbing to Korea DPR in the semis. On an individual level, Mallory Pugh showcased her world-class talent in guiding her team through some tough moments.
Among the other teams to reach the knockout phase, Mexico impressed at times, not least in the shape of the pacy Maria Sanchez and the physically imposing Kiana Palacios in attack. As for Spain, they can take heart from giving the Koreans the sternest of tests in the quarter-finals and from their group-phase win over bogey team Japan.
Reigning champions Germany were flawless in topping Group D with maximum points, only to be eliminated by France in the last eight, the same stage at which Brazil fell, with the South Americans’ individual brilliance proving insufficient against Japan’s all-round excellence.
The biggest surprise of the first round was undoubtedly Nigeria’s exit. Runners-up at Canada 2014, the Super Falconets ultimately paid for the humiliating reverse they suffered at the hands of Japan in their opening game, with their two subsequent wins not enough to take them through. Ghana also packed their bags early after a defeat and two draws in Group C.
As for the host nation, they now know the size of the gap that separates them from the best teams in the world, having conceded a total of 22 goals in three heavy defeats. Amid the deluge, however, came a ray of sunshine in the shape of Nicollete Ageva’s equaliser against Korea DPR after 16 minutes of their group match. Her joyous celebrations provided some of the tournament’s most abiding images.
“That was our objective in this match: to score a goal for ourselves and for the whole of Papua New Guinea,” the smiling Ageva told FIFA.com after finding the back of the net against the eventual champions, a goal that could well inspire many young women across the country to take up the game.
Finally, the tournament also provided a platform for a number of important campaigns targeted at the local population, such as #ENDviolence, which seeks to bring an end to violence against women and girls. The social inclusion programme set up for the tournament’s volunteers was also a major success and promises to leave a lasting legacy for the country.
Story courtesy of FIFA. For more on the world game visit www.fifa.com