Defending champion Germany and the United States have both lived up to their pre-tournament heavyweight billings and go toe-to-toe for top honors on Saturday in the final of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Tokyo.
The showcase match at National Stadium features the undisputed giants at this level, with both teams having won the title twice, but it is the Germans that have the psychological edge after coasting past the Americans 3-0 in the group phase behind a double from hotshot Lena Lotzen.
Germany has yet to allow a goal on Japanese soil and the European starlets have not conceded for six games at this level, a run stretching back to the final in 2010. They have also scored 15 times in their five outings so far, with Lotzen, the second top scorer in the tournament, bagging six goals.
Yet despite those impressive stats, Germany coach, Maren Meinert, whose team broke Japanese hearts with a 3-0 defeat of Young Nadeshiko in the semis, was eager to play down her team’s status as favorites to take the title.
“I am not sure whether the win over the U.S. in the group stage gives us an advantage,” she said. “In the final there are just two teams and for us it doesn’t matter who we are playing tomorrow. We start again at zero. How we got to the final is irrelevant.”
“I don’t think there will be any need to motivate the players, but I don’t want to think we have peaked too early as if we make mistakes now it will all be in vain. We are not champions yet but we are in good shape for tomorrow’s final.”
U.S. coach Steve Swanson admitted he is still figuring out how to try and break down the Germans but said he was pleased with the improvement his players have shown in the knockout phase of the competition, and that being in the final was all the motivation his team need.
“Although we didn’t score against Germany in our group play I think we created enough quality chances to get something out of it. We are focusing on that and I think we have the kind of team and the kind of players that can be dangerous,” said Swanson.
“It’s a World Cup final so there is enough motivation for the players. They are very excited to play against Germany again. For us there were a lot of positives in that first game and we have kind of fixated on those during the course of the time we have been preparing for this game. I think there are a lot of things that we have shown we can do better in the quarterfinal and semifinals so I think we are a team that has improved throughout this tournament.”
Before the final, Japan will meet Nigeria in the match for third place with both sides looking to bounce back from disappointment and end their campaigns on a high.
Japan’s youngsters failed to match the feats of the country’s senior side at the 2011 Women’s World Cup and were left shell-shocked after their defeat to Germany.
Nonetheless they have made history by advancing to the semis for the first time and will be eager to put smiles back on the faces of their supporters by taking bronze.
“Losing is sometimes a positive thing because the issues you have are identified,” said Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida.
“I don’t want the players to forget about the loss (against Germany) as it will serve as a good experience for them in the future. Tomorrow will be our last game and I just hope that we can put on a good performance.”