In a lot of ways, the women's U-20 World Cup has been a microcosm of what's to come for the soccer world in the years ahead.
Two or three giants will exist on their own cloud, a handful of second tier teams will clamber up and try to knock one of the big teams off, and the rest, well, they will just be content to be there.
There is a widening gap in women's soccer today - one that sees the USA, Germany and Japan slowly pulling away from the rest of the pack with their commitment to athleticism, combined with tried and true tactics. And it's one that looks like it will only get larger in the short term.
By the time Canada gets around hosting the women's World Cup in 2015, FIFA will have expanded its tournament size from 16 to 24 countries. And given what's gone on at the U-20 World Cup, where there is real disparity between even the second-tier countries and the bottom feeders, it's going to make for some rather awkward scores when Canada plays host to the big event in three years.
Argentina allowed 19 goals over the course of its U-20 tournament, managing only to deposit one in the other net. Likewise, Italy and Switzerland were only able to notch a single marker. Ghana, for its part, couldn't even muster that. Even a traditional power, such as Brazil, showed that it too is falling behind as it couldn't reach the knockout stages while dropping points to upstart Nigeria and the Korean Republic.Superpowers remain intact
Conversely, Germany powered to three straight wins and did not concede a single goal. Japan, which stumbled only slightly against New Zealand, showed a touch of class that has rarely been seen in the women's game before. Some of the strikes from that U-20 side would impress even the harshest of cynics.
And the Americans, who drastically underperformed compared to the standard most have grown use to seeing from the perennial powerhouse, still managed to squeak through into the knockout rounds, and will likely bumble their way into at least the semifinals, if not the final.
It's all very predictable at this point and it's something that FIFA, for it part, is legitimately trying to change. Some will say that expanding the senior tournament is just another example of the world's governing body trying to line its already bursting coffers. And when the tournament jumps from 32 matches to 52, in a multicultural country like Canada, it will likely translate into the most profitable women's tournament ever.
So, while it's true, in part, that the economics are a driving force, the trickle down effect should help to grow the game in less developed regions and ensure a more balanced field down the line. Probably well down the line for some of those countries on the lower rungs, but it should add up to a more robust middle class of countries, especially from Europe.
Unfortunately, during this next period, there will be plenty of growing pains as new countries are brought on board. That's never good for the sport and it could turn some associations off of funding the women's game entirely.
But if you, or they, need any indication of where the women's game is headed, then check out the quarter-finals of the women's U-20 World Cup, which starts Thursday.
Just as this tournament is a microcosm of the problems that await, so too will these next few games be representative of all the good that is to come.
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