US, Japan, Germany set for women's U-20 World Cup
The United States, defending champion Germany and host Japan will be the leading title contenders at the women's under-20 World Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
The U.S. won the tournament in 2002 and 2008 and will be looking to emulate its senior women's team which won its third straight gold medal at the London Olympics, beating Japan in the final.
Host nation Japan is aiming to add to the success of the 2011 World Cup win by its senior women's team.
Germany is the defending champion, having beaten Nigeria in the final two years ago.
Uzbekistan was originally scheduled to host the Aug. 19-Sept.8 tournament but FIFA stripped it of hosting rights because of ''a number of logistical and technical issues.''
The Americans will be doubly motivated given they failed to finish among the top four at the 2010 U-20 tournament in Germany where they suffered a shock exit to Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
''The roster is a good blend of youth and experience, and we feel one of the strengths of this team is how they play together,'' U.S. coach Steve Swanson said on U.S. Soccer's website.
The U-20 team has produced current senior members Rachel Buehler, Heather O'Reilly, Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan, and it is expected this tournament will produce future senior players.
Five members of the U.S. squad - Bryanne Heaberlin, Crystal Dunn, Mollie Pathman, Maya Hayes and Samantha Mewis - all took part in the 2010 tournament.
The United States opens group play against Ghana on Aug. 20 in Hiroshima and plays China three days later before wrapping up the first round against defending champion Germany in Miyagi on Aug. 27. Germany has also won this tournament twice in 2004 and 2010 so the clash in Miyagi promises to be a good test for both teams.
The tournament involves four groups of four teams. Each team will play three matches in the group in a round-robin format with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals.
Japan has injuries to several key players including Mana Iwabuchi and Mai Kyokawa, but coach Hiroshi Yoshida said his team was ready to follow in the footsteps of the senior women at last year's World Cup.
''These Japanese players are the most technically gifted in the world,'' Yoshida said on FIFA.com. ''I want my team to control each game so we can unleash the skills and style of football that we possess.''
Japan's first group game is against Mexico on Aug. 19 followed by New Zealand on Aug. 22 and Switzerland four days later. The first two games will be played in Miyagi, a region that was hit hard by last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Germany won on home soil in 2010 and arrives in Japan with a team eager to defend the title.
''Once you know what it feels like to win a trophy, you become even hungrier for success, because you want to experience it all over again,'' German captain Ramona Petzelberger said.
The defending champions open against China in Hiroshima on Aug. 20 and take on Ghana three days later before traveling to Miyagi for their key clash with the United States.
North Korea, which won the tournament in 2006, opens group play against Norway on Aug. 20 and also plays Canada and Argentina in the opening round.
The other group involves Brazil, Nigeria, Italy and South Korea.