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France keep cool to clinch World Cup crown

Romane Bruneau scored a spot kick and saved two as Les Bleuettes became the first European side to win the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup by beating North Korea on penalties.

Léa Declercq (right) scored France's opener against North Korea
Léa Declercq (right) scored France's opener against North Korea ©Digitalsport

It took 16 penalties to separate the finalists in Baku, Azerbaijan, but France eventually emerged triumphant to claim their maiden FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup title against North Korea.

Les Bleuettes were the dominant side in the early stages at Tofig Bahramov Stadium and went ahead through Léa Declercq on 33 minutes, only for the 2008 winners to level via tournament top-scorer Ri Un-Sim late on. That strike took the game into a penalty shoot-out, which gave France goalkeeper Romane Bruneau the chance to shine with an ultimately decisive pair of saves.

France went into the match having lost the last two UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship finals, but as the first European team to ever reach the global showpiece they were determined not to experience further heartbreak.

Their meeting with North Korea was actually their second of the tournament, having earlier contested a 1-1 draw in the group stage, with a goalless stalemate against the United States and a 10-2 defeat of Gambia taking them through to the knockout phase. Guy Ferrier's charges then ousted Nigeria 5-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw and saw off Ghana 2-0 in the semi-finals to earn their chance to write history.

The final itself was a tense occasion in which Les Bleuettes struggled to turn their early superiority into chances, but they eventually broke the deadlock when Declercq latched onto Ghoutia Karchouni’s fine through ball and finished on the half-volley. It was the FCF Hénin-Beaumont player's fourth effort of the tournament and forced North Korea to come out of their shell, Ri Hyan-Sim firing a shot against the crossbar after 64 minutes.

Bruneau then denied substitute Ri Kyon-Hyang as time ticked down, but she was helpless when Choe Yun-Gyong connected with the bar 11 minutes from the end, allowing Ri Un-Sim to coolly tap in the rebound. With no extra time, the two sides took to the penalty spot to determine the outcome, Bruneau saving from Kim Un-Hwa and her counterpart Rim Yong-Hwa denying Marion Romanelli before Bruneau converted an attempt of her own and kept out Ri Un-Yong to clinch the title.

"All the games we played were exciting, with suspense and emotion," said Ferrier afterwards. "This final could not have gone differently, even if we would have preferred to keep our one-goal cushion. North Korea decided otherwise, though. What's exceptional about these girls is that they lost the European Championship final on penalties [to Germany] four months ago. We had a repeat today, but I saw no concern in their eyes. They were calm and serene. Given their age, they've impressed me; these are great competitors."

Earlier in the day, Ghana downed Germany 1-0 in the third-place play-off, despite losing Fatima Alhassan to a red card in the first half. European champions Germany actually started the tournament with a 2-1 win against Ghana on their way to topping Group D, and defeated Brazil by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals before their run was ended 2-1 by North Korea.

Hosts Azerbaijan – disputing their first women's final tournament at any level – lost all three Group A games but held Canada to 1-0 in their concluding match. "We didn't put all that work in for two years just to come away with three defeats, so obviously I'm not happy," commented Azerbaijan's German coach Sissy Raith.

However, she added: "I've focused mainly on the team ethic and the concept of the group, and this has been a great experience for us. We worked very hard in preparing for this tournament and it's clear to see that there's still a lot more that needs to be done. But we've laid the foundations now and all we need to do now is keep going."