FRANCE edged a tight encounter at St Mirren Park to record their fifth U-19 championship title. Maëlle Lakrar’s deft flick from a Julie Dufour corner was the difference, but it could have so easily swung the other way had a couple of key moments gone the Germans’ way…
Die Nationalelf, seeking their first trophy since 2011, had taken a sixth minute lead through Nicole Anyomi. Sandy Baltimore equalised just seven minutes later for France and, after a string of German chances went begging, Les Bleues rather smashed and grabbed their winner with 18 minutes of the match remaining.
It was Head Coach Maren Meinhert’s final game in charge of the German squad. She made just one change to the starting eleven that beat the Netherlands with Christin Meyer coming in to replace the injured Paulina Käte Krumbiegel.
For France, Gilles Eyquem made changes in defence, midfield and attack. Lisa Martinez came in at left back, captain Carla Polito returned on the right of the midfield and forward Melvine Malard got the nod ahead of Kessya Bussy following an impressive semi-final performance.
The teams traded early attempts on goal. In just the 2nd minute Baltimore should have done better than blast high and wide from close range, following good work by Naomie Feller and Malard down the right.
Moments later Malard was involved again, this time at the other end, clearing Anyomi’s effort off the line after Marie Müller’s chipped free-kick created chaos in the French six-yard box.
The German’s got their noses in front on six minutes. Meyer burst down the left channel and fed Melissa Kössler. The midfielder’s 20-yard strike cannoned off the cross bar but Anyomi was following in to tuck away the rebound.
France restored parity before the quarter hour when left winger Baltimore was given too much space in the box, scuffing her shot from an angle but seeing it squeeze between Wiebke Willebrandt and her near post.
Despite the setback, the German’s retained their composure on the ball with France attempting to pack the midfield supported by a high defensive line. This was not without its risks and Anyomi went close to retaking the lead on several occasions working space in behind.
Manon Revelli had to be at her best to time a last-ditch challenge on the striker in the 28th minute. Anyomi then had a goal chalked off for a foul on Lakrar – replays suggested there was very little in her challenge to warrant such a decision. Undeterred, the SGS Essen forward continued to look for openings and pounced on a misunderstanding between Martinez and keeper Justine Lerond, rattling her effort off the left-hand upright.
Lakrar was given the benefit of the doubt with what could have been deemed a handball, recovering after a sliding challenge in the French penalty box. No VAR meant no review, and in fairness the Germans didn’t make much of an appeal.
Meinhert’s side continued to make the running in the second half on a pitch that was in remarkably good condition given the relentless rain that had been pounding it over the previous 48 hours.
Müller’s free-kick from deep on 54 minutes somehow found its way through the French backline but Polito reacted quickly to deny Gina-Maria Chmielinski.
A minute later Anyomi fired well wide from outside the box with two teammates better placed to take on the opportunity.
French Coach Eyquem had made tactical substitutions to good effect throughout the competition and, just beyond the hour mark, felt the pattern of relentless German pressure needed to be shifted. He brought on midfielder Margaux Le Mouël to deal with Müller and 15-year old striker Vicki Becho, who had scored twice in the semi-final win over Spain.
But even with closer attention in open play, Müller remained a threat from the dead ball. Lerond showed good concentration to tip over a swirling free kick from the left after the playmaker had undeniably over hit it.
Against the run of play, on 72 minutes, France took the lead. Dufour swung in a corner from the left, no defender got their head to it and Lakrar improvised a clever finish off the outside of her right boot.
Three minutes later, Malard should have buttoned up the victory. The French worked a swift counter from left to right, Becho’s cross put the chance on a plate for Malard but she headed over the bar.
Coach Meinhert responded, bringing on a semi-final star of her own. Shekiera Martinez had orchestrated the Germans’ success late in the Netherlands game and was given quarter of an hour to help force extra time. Anyomi worked an opening for her almost immediately but Lerond was sharp off her line to smother the ball.
Germany continued to force the issue in the final ten minutes, but they were tiring. Müller’s wild swing from distance failed to trouble the keeper. In stoppage time Willebrandt’s long, punted free-kick found its way to Chmielinski in the six-yard box but Lerond saved with her feet. A procession of corners followed but the French defence held firm.
In the dying embers of the match Baltimore could have put a more flattering look on the score line but her tame shot was easily gathered by the German stopper.
So, France win their fifth title, and their third since 2013. En route to the final they beat Scotland (2-1) and the Netherlands (3-1) in the group stages, also drawing 3-3 with Norway. Gilles Eyquem made a virtue of squad rotation to rest players throughout the competition, which served them well in the 3-1 semi-final victory over Spain where all the goals were scored in extra time.
For Germany it’s a second consecutive runners-up spot, but as the Women’s World Cup this summer adequately demonstrated they do have a proven track record of developing their age-group players into excellent senior internationals.
Player of the match: Nicole Anyomi, Germany (Even though she ended up on the losing side, she was a constant threat up front and can consider herself unlucky to not have added to her tally, particularly in a dynamic first half.)