Five questions to the chief strategists

When Germany meet USA in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 final on Saturday in the latest clash of the big powers in women’s football, one of the crucial elements will be the tactical duel between the two coaches. In the build-up to the eagerly awaited showdown, FIFA.com posed five questions to Germany supremo Maren Meinert, the only female coach at the tournament, and USA boss Steve Swanson.

FIFA.com: What kind of final will it be?
Maren Meinert:
It’ll be an exciting final between two great footballing nations. It’s a classic encounter. And it’s unusual and a bit special, in that we’ve already met at this tournament, although it’s obviously a completely different situation in a final.

Steve Swanson: It’ll be a clash between equals from the start. It’s the sixth match at this very high-quality but long tournament. We’ll have to be at our best if we’re to win.

At what point did you sense you were through to the final?
Meinert: Very late indeed. I always thought that if Japan did score, the crowd would get right behind them again and it might have been tight at the end. But after 70 minutes, I realised we were still defending very well, and I was a bit more optimistic. But at the end of the day, you’re only absolutely certain when the referee blows the final whistle.

Swanson: Basically at the end of the semi-final. We’ve worked hard for the last year and a half to bring this team on and to get better. In a tournament like this, with so many good teams, you never know what might happen. There are always ups and downs in football. We feel good about where we are at the present time. The tournament is teaching my team important lessons, and we’re taking something away from every match.

What’s the last thing you’ll say to your players before the final?
Meinert: I don’t know yet. It’s too early to prepare anything at this stage. On the day itself, you develop a feeling for the right words. I never have a prepared script for the dressing room. I often think of something when watching the players warm up, but sometimes it’s completely spontaneous.

Swanson: They should enjoy the occasion. It’s the kind of opportunity you only get once in a lifetime. The players have worked hard to be here, so they should enjoy it and just play their football.

What’s been the best moment of the tournament so far?
Meinert: There have been plenty. If I have to pick one out, it would probably be our last minute winner against Ghana, because it doesn’t happen very often. Or perhaps our goal against Japan in the first minute.

Swanson: It’s definitely great for any coach to see your players grow in such a short space of time. You rarely have the chance to watch your players become a little better every day. The players certainly won’t be as aware of it as we are. The way our individual quality and team unity have grown is magnificent. The players deserve a huge amount of praise. I’m delighted for them, because all the hard work is paying off.

What’s your take on the rivalry between Germany and USA in women’s football?
Meinert: Rivalries like the ones between Germany and USA, Brazil and USA, or Germany and Brazil are all part of the game. USA is a great footballing nation, and their women’s national teams have always been part of the world elite. USA were and are the gold standard, at every age level. The first question you ask yourself in the junior game is: who can keep up with USA? That’s why matches like this are so important.

Swanson: We have huge respect for Germany. We’ve played them twice in the recent past. They’re an excellent team, very well organised and with first-class technique. They know the jobs they have to do. Hopefully we’ll produce a top performance.