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As president of the Local Organising Committee, Steffi Jones was the face of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, bringing her enthusiastic and open manner to the role to ensure that the finals were a huge success. The end of the tournament heralded a new chapter in Jones’s life as she was appointed director for women’s and girls’ football at the German Football Association.
Capped 111 times for her country, the retired defender’s next challenge is already lined up after it was announced that she will replace Silvia Neid as national team coach in September 2016. For now, though, her focus is solely on the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. Unsurprisingly, this tournament, as well as newcomers, old acquaintances and youth development work were all on the agenda when Jones spoke exclusively to FIFA.com recently.
FIFA.com: How excited are you about this World Cup?
-->Steffi Jones: Very excited, because you can now really sense the emotions and anticipation that the event is right around the corner. The fact that there will be eight more teams there this time around is just fantastic for the sport’s development.
What do you believe will be the greatest differences between the last World Cup in Germany and the upcoming tournament in Canada?
-->Having 24 teams and playing in a much larger country across great distances and several time zones are all much more significant factors. Some of these aspects have presented Canada with a real challenge.
Eight teams will be making their first appearance at a FIFA Women’s World Cup. How difficult will it be for these debutants?
-->Some of the sides, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain, have already featured at European Championships or youth World Cups, so in that respect the experience won’t be anything new. Now they’ve reached a new level at which to test themselves; going up against the best teams in the world is fantastic for the development of these countries.
Apart from the usual suspects, do you think there will be a surprise package among the teams, and who do you think that might be?
-->There will certainly be some of those. There are the favourites, and our national coach has already named nine or ten teams in that category alone. We’re top of the world rankings, so in that respect we’re among the title contenders, but I think the Netherlands, Spain and perhaps even Thailand could spring a surprise. Who knows?
It’s something we don’t want to hear about anymore.
How will Canada fare as a host nation?
-->Extremely well; I have absolutely no doubts about that. They gained plenty of experience from the U-20 World Cup in 2014 and were able to learn from that, so they know what’s coming. This time they have even more teams to look after. I’m looking forward to it and I think they’ll do a great job. I also hope their team goes far; it’s always great for the organisers if the home side performs well.
You mentioned that having 24 teams in the competition is important for the sport’s development. What exactly makes that so vital?
-->It’s the fact that the sides are competing internationally and have an opportunity to play at this level. It’s crucial that they’re able to show their associations: “We need this support to get us through a World Cup.” That’s the first step to opening doors – for the youth too. You need good young players coming through the ranks to continue fielding a national team.
How would you rate Germany’s chances in Canada?
-->[laughs] All the teams have similar chances. They’ve got to prepare for the conditions and climate out there. We’re under a bit of pressure as we’re going to the tournament as the top-ranked side and are keen to go a very long way – that’s our aim.
The team made a surprising exit from the 2011 competition at the quarter-final stage. Does that provide the players with a special incentive to show the world that this is their year?
-->2011 has definitely been scrutinised but it's now been put to one side. We won the European Championship in 2013 and we’ve continued to develop the side since then. It’s something we don’t want to hear about anymore. We’re keen to look ahead to a fantastic World Cup against some huge sides.
The men’s team led the way in Brazil in 2014 and have repeatedly said that their greatest strength was team spirit. How important is this quality on the way to the title and how can you conjure it up?
-->That has always been our recipe for success too. We’ve always had a very good blend of young and more experienced players within the squad and a fantastic team spirit. Of course we’ve had a little bit of luck along the way too, and we’re hoping for some more of that this year.
When you compare Germany with other countries, can the team learn anything from their rivals?
-->I think that it’s always been extremely important to test yourselves against strong opponents. That began with the Algarve Cup and is now continuing with preparation games that enable teams to work on the finishing touches. It all depends on a side’s form on the day. Each World Cup tells its own story and that means everybody can beat anybody.
We’ve always had a very good blend of young and more experienced players within the squad and a fantastic team spirit
After the 2011 Women’s World Cup and 2013 European Championship, several vastly experienced players retired, including Birgit Prinz, Inka Grings and Kerstin Garefrekes. How tough is that kind of upheaval?
-->We never really experienced any radical change because we have always integrated promising youngsters into the squad. It’s a fact of life that sometimes players retire, but then others break through. It’s really not that noticeable because the newer members of our squad have already played at an extremely high level thanks to the U-17 and U-20 World Cups. They face similar international competition in the Women’s Bundesliga and are used to that kind of environment, so in that respect there’s really no great upheaval at all.
Would it be fair to say that Germany have so many talented footballers to choose from that as soon as one player retires, another takes their place?
-->I wouldn’t put it quite like that. It’s worth emphasising that we take special care to ensure that our young players reach the level of the women’s national team at a relatively early stage. That’s a philosophy of ours, a common theme that begins with the U-15s and is carried through to the senior side. It’s an important part of our work and we’re extremely pleased with it.
FIFA also organises youth competitions such as the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cup. How important is it for a player to gain international experience at a young age and develop their skills at these tournaments?
-->I think it’s incredibly important for us to have these opportunities and enable the players to test themselves on the international stage early on in their careers. It also demonstrates that many countries receive far more support because these events exist, because it’s recognised that if you’ve got a women’s team, you also need to build a foundation for it – and those competitions are superb for that.