The last U17 WC has already seen much much improved performances but this one seems to be yet another big step forward. Overall the teams have matured also regarding the balance of the performance level within each team and between the teams. Once you had easy wins for the few forerunner nations in womens football because the “smaller” countries may have had a few players on level but lacked quality in depth. Now we have a field of 16 teams that is nearly as much on level as at the mens world championships. And technical faults are much more an exception even though the games are played with yet increasing tempo and dynamic duels. And a lot of games are really good and interesting to watch even compared to the top flight leagues in many countries.
How good are these teams compared to top flight (first league) club matches?
Without a discussion of what the best league is. It depends on the particular league of course. The North American players are coming to senior level much later after college football and thus are difficult to compare to the NWSL. But the college football system is not a disadvantage for their development of course. Unfortunately we dont know enough on South America and Asia. In Europe we have some very young players playing top leagues so a hint to compare. Georgia Stanway has made a view appearances including scoring a triple for Manchester City in the FAWSL. Marie Antoinette Katoto of France has played for Paris St. Germain (not playing here though). And Giulia Gwinn is a regular starter alongside some German senior-N11 players at SC Freiburg. Unfortunately the Spanish players who played so well at U17 level two years ago though have surprisingly not yet hit the very top senior level in Spain. Hopefully they get there this year.
Players like the aforementioned are of course well over average in their countries top leagues (like Pugh and also Sanchez would be in the NWSL). Given the level of the teams and the weaker teams in the league it is fair to say that the womens U17s would not be relegated if they would play first league probably in Europe. Whereas mens U17s national teams probably would not have a glimpse of a chance to stay even in the 3rd league. But that is of course due to the big differences between the top teams and the relegated teams in the top women leagues. However the U17s of the USA (on their level here not reaching the quarters) would struggle against the Boston Breakers though possibly not as much as many would think.
U17 girls are not yet so much drilled to play as cautious as they will when getting older. So there is still more joy in running forward and attacking. And you still see that of course in the games. And you see it the way the goals are scored. However we had it rather mixed up on day 3. In the first 4 matches we saw “quality” goals. Yet another fantastic goal every senior player would be proud if by Castellanos. And two very fine goals in the group A top match Mexico – Spain. With skilful finishes and skilful preparation play. The same for the opening goal from Germany against Cameroon. All rather based on own creative play than pressing for the goal or forcing lucky falling “second” balls to pick them up to score. And Germany with the best performance so far of the tournament. Usually they are the more physical side and use that to dominate. However against Cameroon they saw themselves not winning the majority of duels. But this time they managed to play and pass their way around their strong opponents when needed. Only in front of goal they missed the needed touch.
But then came the other day. And that unfortunately proofed we might have been a little bit too fast in celebrating well constructed goals.
Brazil – England saw the Brazil goal after a strange miss from the English back line and then two poorly gifted penalties for fouls in the box on players who were not threatening the Brazil goal at all. And these two poorly gifted penalties earned England a quarter final place.
And then there was the match USA – Japan we had been looking forward to.
But it couldnt keep up with the expectations. And it is difficult to judge as well because it was rather heavily mixed up. First there were great skills again technically and individually throughout. But as usual Japan with the much smarter movement and cohesive play that earned them a strong dominance. However the USA were well organised defensively to deny Japans offense any chances. That aspect was very good from the USA and Japan rather poor in playing without any urgency towards the goal. Zero shots on goal with 60%+ possession during the first half. Not often seen. But the play in ball possession was rather poor from the USA. Surely they wanted rightfully to avoid too much play through the midfield where Japan was strong. But the way they executed this wasnt good. Far too much balls were given away far too cheap. Especially the long balls often landed in nowhereland because they got the set up totally wrong.
Even more worrying was the fact that Japan was nevertheless caught by such a poor ball when the defense made a huge mistake. At least the finish from Sanchez was very very good. But after all the good defending in open play finally the US-girls gave a goal away against Japan. Hard to imagine it would be after a corner kick. And that was a shock for the girls and they lost their composure from that moment on so Japan finally got two fine goals from open play. USA threw everybody up front at the end in a way too wild and disorganised manner and should have conceded another 3-4 goals in the last 10 minutes but Japan strangely was not able to convert any of a lot of situations where they had the majority of the players in front of the US goal. Yet another defensive fault led to a penalty for the USA. But there was not more than a 2:3 and the USA were out.
They have never been very strong at U17 international level but this year the team seemed to be better with good results in the preparation having beaten Japan there more than once amongst others. We saw them play very well against Switzerland U19. And winning. However these are young girls and you have to accept unbalanced performances which you cant avoid totally. Giving the Ghana game away though was certainly also a lack of seriousness. We have seen with Canada also that this is their first big big event and so the fear of being eliminated also put them clearly under more pressure than seasoned senior players.
Quarter final preview:
With an increased competition level and so much dangerous opponents the “management” of the path to the final gets more important. Surely there are exceptions where planning too much does backfire. But again there are improvements possible in the calculation of probabilities. Germany was ousted in the WC 2015 after a series of games against Sweden – France – USA. The USA had Colombia – China – Germany – Japan to the title. Canada was ousted in the Olympics after a series Germany – France – Germany. Germany had China – Canada – Sweden to the title.
Probabilties are probabilities and no certainties. But the probability of beating 3 strong opponents in consecutive matches one after another is much lower than getting through an easier path. That doesnt mean it will never happen. But it is quite basic understanding of probability calculation.
Spain and Germany both face now a path of Germany(Spain) – Japan – finalist. To win that all is not impossible. But the probability (and their chance) is significantly lower than had they avoided at least each other in the quarters. Whether it pays off for Spain to have rested so many players against Mexico and now face Germany? We will see.
Spain – Germany
55% Germany. The revenge for the Euro final earlier this year. Germany the more athletic side. Spain the technically better. It was an interesting piece of good team management in womens football at display how Germany made their athletics advantages count in the final. They imposed a very direct style and did lots of running to force Spain into physical duals where they came up better. Can they repeat that? Or have Spain found a proper answer to this in the meantime? Will Germany use their top talent 14yo Oberndorf? Should be interesting to watch. And whoever wins this will face probably Japan in what might be the premature final.
Venezuela – Mexico
55% Mexico. Venezuela scraped through a difficult group a little bit luckily. Mexico won a weak group. Difficult to call and rather evenly poised. But the route to the final is not too complicated. So why not do it for both teams?
Japan – England
85% Japan. You never know in football. The English forwards might be not very pleasant to play for the Japanese defense which still doesnt look good at all and might well be Japans decisive disadvantage sooner or later. But it needs probably a small miracle on the day for the Japanese offense not to score more than once against the English defense.
North Korea – Ghana
75% North Korea. Should be the second quarter final with a clear favorite. Ghana had their big day already against the USA. Can they repeat that? We would expect North Korea to score sooner or later. And being the favorites to reach the final too given the big teams are all on the other side of the draw.