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Breaking down all 16 nations in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada

Breaking down all 16 nations in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada

Posted by Juan Gavasa on August 05, 2014

The toughest part about youth soccer is scouting. There is not much in-game video. But Canada and its coach Andrew Olivieri were lucky: Their first group opponent Ghana arrived here early, and the Canadians had time to watch them practise live ahead of the opening match of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup, on Tuesday at BMO Field.

The U.S. and Germany come with the most lustre, having won five of the past six editions of the tournament. But then there are the non-traditional powers — China, North Korea, Finland — that thrive at this level, and only that. For many of these teams, there is a lot unknown.

This is a warm-up for the big event next year, the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and a large portion of these players will be there. The Post’s Anthony Lopopolo digs into each of the 16 teams participating in this year’s competition.


Qualified As hosts

Canada comes into the tournament with five teenagers who have already played for the senior team. Jessie Fleming is one. Fleming served as captain of the Under-17 women’s team, which made it to the quarter-finals. She turned 16 in March, but senior coach John Herdman told the London Free-Press: “Her football age is up there. In terms of her cognitive ability, what she sees on the pitch, her perception, her skill set, her footwork, she has all these things in her locker.”


Qualified Beat Equatorial Guinea on penalties for one of two African berths

This is Ghana’s third appearance at the Under-20 event. But it did not take much to get here. They only scored one goal in qualifying, and they won their first two qualifiers by default. The Black Princesses made the trip to Canada earlier in the month, spending two weeks acclimatizing before their first game at BMO Field against the Canadians on August 6.


Qualified Finished as a semi-finalist in the 2013 UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship for one of the four European tickets

The Finns have never played in a senior World Cup on either the men’s or women’s side before. So any time they play on the international level is “fantastic for all of girls’ and women’s football in Finland, not just for this team,” said coach Marianne Miettinen. But their last appearance in this competition was not kind. Finland conceded 12 goals and scored just once in three defeats in 2006.

North Korea

Qualified Claimed one of three berths in Asia after finishing second in a group of six in the 2013 AFC Under-19 Women’s Championship

North Korea does not look like a soccer nation, but they are a force at the Under-20 level. They won the 2006 title as tournament debutantes, and they have progressed past the group stage in each of their last three appearances since then. North Korea beat China and blew out Australia to get here. It will be the fifth time they have participated in the competition.


Qualified Finished as a semi-finalist in the the UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship

Three-time finalists and two-time winners of the Under-20 World Cup, Germany is never out of it. They have won five out of the past six titles with the U.S. Several of its players have already suited up for the senior squad. Pauline Bremer plays for one of the most successful women’s teams in Germany, 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam, and she was also the top scorer last year at the UEFA Under-19 Women’s Championship, which Germany naturally won.


Qualified Took one of three spots in North America after winning the 2014 CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship

The Americans won the first competition back in Edmonton in 1992, and they are coming back to Canada in search of a record fourth title. They are one of four nations that has played in all six previous tournaments, and they had a relatively time getting here, scoring 10 goals in the semi-final and final of the Under-20 CONCACAF Women’s Championship. Most of the current roster is playing with college teams, but forward Lindsey Horan is the only one playing abroad with Paris Saint-Germain.


Qualified Finished third in the 2013 AFC Under-19 Women’s Championship

The Chinese men have only qualified for the World Cup once. It is the women’s game that is their strength. But “there is still a long way to go,” coach Wang Jun told China has not progressed past the group stage of this tournament since 2006, and this year will not be not much easier. They will play Brazil, Germany and the U.S., and they will travel for several days before their first game — the longest journey of all participating nations — to reach Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, where they contest their opening Group B match on August 5.


Qualified Earned one of Conmebol’s two berths by winning the final of the South American Under-20 Women’s Championship

Coach Doriva Bueno Pacheco has his sights on a bigger prize: the Olympics. “Some of our players could be competing there,” he told “We’ve even had the women’s senior team coach along to watch us train and play.” So Canada is almost a testing ground for these players, who will go back to Brazil and possibly do what the Brazilian men could not: win at home. The women have participated in every edition of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup but they have never won.


Qualified Finished as runners-up in the the UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship

This is a team based on meritocracy: Every squad member has represented England at the youth level previously at some point. The team is coached by Mo Marley, who made 41 appearances with the England senior squad, and also coached the Everton Ladies. And she is tough: In 2002, once she was in a position to make personnel decisions at the club, Marley fired her own husband to take that Everton coaching job for herself.

South Korea

Qualified Topped the group in the 2013 AFC Under-19 Women’s Championship

Jang Selgi used to play defence. Now South Korea is relying on her to score. An offside call was once a good thing for Selgi; and then there she was last year, eluding the offside trap to get a goal as a striker. She was the MVP and the top scorer at the 2013 AFC Under-19 championship, netting eight goals as South Korea finished as champion.


Qualified Finished as runners-up in the 2014 CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship

For Mexico, it is all about progress. “We have come through the group stages in the last two World Cups,” said coach Christopher Cuellar, “so that has to be our objective.” They will have to score to do it. In the CONCACAF tournament earlier this year, Mexico registered more shots on goal (113) than any other country, and Tanya Samarzich scored a pair of hat tricks. Samarzich’s father is Serbian, and she was born in California, but she will be leading her mother’s country in Canada.


Qualified Beat South Africa 7-0 on aggregate to progress

Nigeria is the only African nation to appear in every edition of this tournament. In 2010, they lost in the final to host country Germany, and in 2012 they fell in the semi-finals to the U.S. But there is perhaps more pressure on this current roster than any before them to break through and finally claim a title of their own. Coach Peter Dedevbo calls it “the baby team of the federation, they like the team so much.”

New Zealand

Qualified Beat Papua New Guinea in the final of the 2014 OFC Under-20 Women’s Championship to claim Oceania’s only berth in this World Cup

No team from New Zealand has ever made the knockout round of a FIFA tournament. They are still a young soccer nation. So they are looking to make history in Canada, where they will make their fifth appearance in the competition. To get here, the New Zealanders only had to beat the lesser nations of Oceania, including the small island of Vanuatu, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.


Qualified Finished as runners-up in the South American Under-20 Women’s Championship

Paraguay is the second South American team to qualify for this year’s tournament, and that alone is a triumph. Their success in qualifying — which is usually dominated by Chile, Colombia and Brazil — earned them a spot in the Under-20 women’s World Cup for the first time. They scored 15 goals in that qualifying campaign, and they will likely gun for more. “We want to reach the last four,” said striker Jessica Martinez.


Qualified Beat England in the final of the 2013 UEFA European Women’s Under-19

Fourth place is usually theirs. The French finished in fourth at both the 2011 women’s World Cup and the 2012 Olympics, and fourth is the highest they have finished at any of the four Under-20 events for which they qualified. But there is some hope. They won the Under-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan in 2012. A good chunk of the current roster comes from that championship team, and several players suit up for one of the best French squads in Paris Saint-Germain.

Costa Rica

Qualified Beat Trinidad and Tobago 7-3 in the third-place match of the 2014 CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship

Costa Rica is almost a forgotten thought in the CONCACAF region. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are the mainstays, and yet here are the Costa Ricans, making their second appearance at the Under-20 women’s World Cup. Qualifying was easier without Canada, which qualified automatically as the host nation. Costa Rica’s men made it all the way to the quarter-finals in the World Cup in Brazil, and perhaps there is magic in the ladies, too.

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