Germany may not have come back from South Africa with the World Cup trophy, but the country’s under-20 women’s team still has a chance to restore German pride at the U-20 World Cup, which began this week in Germany.
Women's football is making great strides
Despite still falling far behind its male parallel in terms of popularity, it's plain to see that women's football is taking big strides towards reaching a wider audience.
With the launch of the under-20 women's World Cup in Germany this week, FIFA is hoping to break the all-time ticket sales record for an U-20 tournament, which was set at 190,000 two years ago in Mexico. This year's edition is a forerunner to the 2011 Women's World Cup, which will also be played in Germany.
More than 170,000 tickets have already been sold for the 32 games being played over the next three weeks of the junior championship, with the German Football Association confident of selling more on match days.
Ticket sales for the U-20 championships have been very promising
In its first group stage match, Germany's U-20 side cruised to a comfortable 4-2 win over Costa Rica in front of 24,000 fans, and will go into post-match training eyeing a win over their next opponents, Colombia, on Friday.
The tournament is a shot in the arm for the women's game, which has had a hard time getting public attention in Germany, despite the presence of a well-organized league spread over two divisions. Many people still feel it lacks the intensity of the men's game.
But thanks to the success of the senior women's team, the profile of women's football is growing. Germany are two-time defending world champions and have won the last five UEFA European Women's Championships.
Marina Hegering, 20, captains the German U-20 team, and told Deutsche Welle she looks to the senior team for inspiration. The irony is that she, too, has become a role model for young footballers.
"Yeah, it's really strange to already have little kids looking up to me," says Hegering, who netted in the victory over Costa Rica. "It's a funny feeling because I'm still quite young myself and there are older players that I also look up to … but it does give me a sense of pride."
Over the last 15 years, global recognition of the women's game has grown, adds Hegering, who won the Fritz Walter Medal for best young German player in 2009.
Hegering, left, is an emerging talent in German women's football
"Women's football has evolved, especially in the pro-league in the United States. But in terms of development and other elements of the game I think we've come just as far as in the USA," says Hegering, adding, however, that media attention to women's football in Germany is still lagging behind.
"It would be great if women's football was shown on the evening sports news on television," she says. "Maybe this would make men a little more interested in women's football. Then more spectators would come to games. It would be good progress if the country's two public television stations showed even just short snippets of games."
Almuth Schult, who is currently the number one shot stopper for the U-20 team, agrees that women's football in Germany still doesn't get the recognition it receives in other countries.
"When you see Norway, or in the USA, women's football has a higher level in society, and in Germany it's just started," she says. "But women's football in Germany will get more important in time.
The young German team will be looking to impress on home soil
"I think in Germany they do very good work with young players in women's football just as in men's teams, and so we have good players in the under-17 and under-19 teams," Schult added.
Germany rounds off the tournament group stages against France on Tuesday, with all of the players looking to put in stellar performances in the hope of making the women's senior national team for next year's World Cup on home soil.
Under-20 coach Maren Meinert told the FIFA news website that it was important her team performed well in front of a German audience.
"The main thing for us is that this is a home World Cup, so it's a chance to lay out our credentials in front of big crowds," said the former national team hero and World Cup winner.
"We have a good team and we certainly aim to stay in the tournament right to the end, although we don't sense any pressure to win the trophy."
Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Martin Kuebler