A late and final update on the recent FIFA competitions now, which admittedly went a bit flat after the German women were eliminated in their own tournament by Japan and the Under-17s blew a 2-1 to lose their semi-final to hosts Mexico – and the ever-so-small consolation that both German sides lost to the eventual winners.
In the women’s World Cup, the Japanese overwhelmed Sweden 3-1 in their semi-final before coming from behind twice in both normal and extra time to take the two-time tournament winners from the United States into a penalty shoot-out. The Americans had prevailed in an Elfmeterscheissen in their quarter-final against Brazil, but completely lost their focus in Frankfurt as the Japanese slotted their kicks home to became the first Asian side to win the tournament – thus preventing the US from becoming the most successful nation in its history with three wins.
Some commentators have been highly critical of the women’s game, but I thought the tournament was enjoyable to watch and well attended – we just need to remove any ideas that it is in any way comparable to the men’s game and treat it as a spectacle in its own right. So OK, the winners may well have been walked off the park by any of the Under-17 squads playing in Mexico – but those who labour this point are not making much of a point at all.
Having suffered that catastrophic last-gasp semi-final defeat against Mexico, one might have expected Steffen Freund’s Jungs to return home with a whimper, but not a bit of it. Freund’s outfit may well have provided a clear vision of a modern and multi-ethnic team, but when they found themselves 3-1 down in their third-place play-off against pre-tournament favourites Brazil they fought back with the same unmistakeable spirit shown by many of the great German teams of the past. A 3-1 deficit was transformed into a 4-3 lead, which they held in the face of the searing Mexico City heat and a Brazilian side throwing everything at them. Their third place was well deserved, and like the senior team in South Africa last year they emerged as the most prolific squad in front of goal, scoring twenty-four times in their seven matches.
If this is the Germany of the future, then the future is surely bright – so long as the likes of Emre Can, Levent Ayçiçek and Samed Yasil choose to continue wearing the Schwarz und Weiß and not flit off to Turkey when the first cheap opportunity arises. With Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw’s faith in youth well established, might some of these young guns follow the likes of fellow teenager Mario Götze into the senior side in time for Euro 2012?