U20 Women’s World Cup : Semi-Finals here we come
The U20 Women’s World Cup is currently taking place in Canada, and France are through to the semi-finals where they will face (melodramatic music) Germany.
Les Bleuettes motored through the group stage, with wins over Costa Rica (5-1), New Zealand (4-0) and Paraguay (3-0), making them the only team to go through with nine points, and with a joint-highest goals total of twelve with (melodramatic music) Germany. However, Group D was reasonably straightforward, unlike their opponent’s Group B, which also featured USA, China and Brazil. In the plus column is that while (enough already – ed.) Germany also scored a dozen in the group stage, they did ship five to China in an epic 5-5 draw, so clearly have some issues at the back.
The match against Costa Rica may have come to your attention as it featured an absolutely brilliant goal from Montpellier midfielder Claire Lavogez, who had earlier opened the scoring with a penalty. There was also a tap-in from Guingamp’s Faustine Robert, an own-goal, and a calm finish under pressure from PSG’s Ouleymata Sarr, before France conceded their only goal in the tournament so far as Durand spilled a save and it was scrambled home.
Next up, and New Zealand fell behind as Juvisy’s Kadidiatou Diani converted a free-kick delivered by that woman Lavogez, who then made it two with a thriker having been set up by Sarr, before two goals in two minutes from substitute Clarisse Le Bihan (Guingamp), the first shredding the All-White defence with a canny run through, the second, from a free-kick from Robert.
Last in the group came Paraguay, Robert scoring a penalty after five minutes and then running in a second two minutes later (from an offside position? – ed.) after the Paraguayan keeper failed to deal with a header. Sarr then had a very good penalty shout ignored and Lavogez came inches away with a diving header before OL’s Mylaine Tarrieu pinged one off the keeper and in for the third.
So far, so smooth. France looked very impressive going into their quarter-final against South Korea, who had finished second in Group C against Nigeria, England and Mexico. Here, things stalled a little. South Korea knocked out Japan in qualifying, but did so with a defensive solidity verging on the pathological; at the tournament they’d drawn 1-1 with England, lost 2-1 to group-winners Nigeria, and beaten Mexico 2-1 in their final game.
They were back to the qualification tactic in the quarter-final, and as the TV commentary team mused if they’d ever seen such negative football, and somewhere in West London Jose Mourinho twitched in his sleep, they made absolutely no effort to actually try to win. A slight shirt-tug and a dive gave them an almost unbelievable chance to do so as they were awarded a penalty, but Montpellier’s Solene Durand made a fine double save from an admittedly weak effort from Lee Sodam, and France were looking flustered. Unable to break down the stern South Korean defence, they picked up in extra time, and, in one of many terrible decisions from the officials, had a perfectly good Robert winner chalked off for offside (she was level – ed.). Penalties beckoned, and despite Marine Dafeur hitting the crossbar, South Korea missed twice, and Lavogez was the one to put them through.
So, les Bleuettes march on to face Germany, with a couple of valuable lessons learned: that if teams set up to defend against them, and are organised enough to do it, you need more than ‘just’ flair and creativity to beat them. Time and again we saw two attacking frailties from France as they attempted to break through the South Korean defence: the creative players attempting to dribble through the middle, the most congested part of the pitch, and understandably having no joy as they were triple-marked in the process; and if they did head up the wings where the cover wasn’t quite as good and cross the ball in, there was nobody there to meet it. While Germany’s result against China suggests that their U20s are not of the calibre of the senior team when it comes to defending, this is a worry. It is also, from a French perspective, something of a theme at the senior level as well, so you have to wonder about the overall approach being taken.
However, the spine of this team won the U19 European Championship last year; while she is yet to get on the scoresheet, Montpellier’s Sandi Toletti is the midfield pivot who makes everything tick, and she is one of fourteen European champions in total, including ‘Zizounette’ Lavogez, Durand in goal, and Guingamp’s Griedge M’Bock Bathy in defence. Meanwhile, Germany have reached this stage by topping that difficult-looking Group B and then seeing off hosts Canada 2-0 in the quarter-final. Their top-scorer Sara Daebritz (Freiburg) has five, with Potsdam’s Pauline Bremer and Leverkusen’s Theresa Panfil both on three, and Bremer also has four assists.
On the other side of the draw, Nigeria beat New Zealand 4-1 with braces from Asisat Oshoala and Uchechi Sunday, and North Korea won on penalties against the USA, and they will face off at 22.00 CEST Wednesday evening, before France play Germany at 01.00 CEST Thursday morning.