She shoots, she scores

The U17 Women’s World Cup kicks off in Trinidad & Tobago in September. James Fuller on the new goals of regional women’s football

Canadian forward Nour Ghoneim evades a defender at the 2010 CONCACAF Women`s Under-17 Championship. Photograph courtesy CONCACAF.COMChilean forward Yudith Rojas (red and blue) captures the ball in a friendly match against Canada on July 29. Photograph courtesy the Chilean Football FederationJack Warner, FIFA vice-president. Photograph courtesy FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup TrinidadRepublic of Ireland players celebrate their victory over Germany at the UEFA women’s U17 championship semifinals, in Switzerland. Photograph courtesy Stephen McCarthy/SportsfileTrinidad and Tobago’s U17 women’s football team. Photograph courtesy FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad

Ask where’s the venue for 2010’s biggest football tournament, and most people will reply “South Africa” – where the World Cup was played in June and July. But it’s not the answer you’ll get from the 336 female footballers who descend on Trinidad & Tobago’s shores in September. The FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Women’s U17 World Cup is coming to the Caribbean, and 16 nations will battle it out, over three weeks of competition, from September 5 – 25, for the honour of being crowned world champions.

The first U17 tournament was held two years ago in New Zealand and was a resounding success, with North Korea emerging as the inaugural winners after defeating the USA 2-1 in extra time in the final in Auckland. The 2010 edition is seen as key to reinforcing 2008’s groundbreaking gains and there are anticipated ripple effects for the entire women’s game.

“This is only the second U17 World Cup, and it will serve to cement the event in the global football calendar and consciousness,” said Jack Warner, FIFA vice president, president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and head of the Trinidad & Tobago Local Organising Committee (LOC). “Clearly, the tournament allows FIFA to mirror its delivery of tournaments on the men’s side, to underline its commitment to the women’s game and to provide equal opportunity for women to play. This tournament will prompt FIFA’s member associations across the globe to devote the necessary resources and attention to women’s football at grassroots and junior levels.”

The junior female game is already firmly entrenched in Asia, Europe and the USA, but there is a need for it to gain firmer footholds elsewhere if its growth is to continue.

“It’s massive for the development of the women’s game, because it gets a lot of females to the next level,” says Canadian coach Bryan Rosenfeld. “It connects them to international football, to the senior women’s game, and you will see a much better product when these players filter through to that level.

“It’s important for CONCACAF as well because it will make the confederation a lot stronger; the stronger the overall competition the better teams will become.”

Draws & Formats

For Trinidad & Tobago, 2010 represents the first time any of its female teams have been represented at a World Cup. The national team, the Soca Princesses, might have hoped for a kinder debut, though because, during a glitzy draw ceremony at Port of Spain’s Hyatt Regency Hotel in May, they were pitted against reigning World Champions North Korea, Africa’s number-one side, Nigeria, and dangerous South American outfit Chile, in a tough opening group.

Trinidad & Tobago is the Caribbean’s sole representative at the tournament, qualifying automatically as host nation. The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Haiti, and Jamaica participated in the regional qualifying tournament, but were eliminated in the first round.
The event attracted such luminaries as Trinidadian cricketing legend Brian Lara and former German captain, coach and World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer is also chairman of the organising committee for the U20 and U17 Women’s World Cups.
The full breakdown of the four groups is:

Group A    Trinidad & Tobago, Chile, Nigeria, North Korea
Group B    Germany, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea
Group C    New Zealand, Venezuela, Spain, Japan
Group D    Republic of Ireland, Brazil, Canada, Ghana

The draw provoked mixed reactions from the national coaches.

Chile’s Ronnie Radonich brushed off the ramifications of being drawn with world champions North Korea. Group A “is a great group for us,” he said. “All teams in a World Cup are there for a reason, so we have a chance.”

The gastronomic and meteorological advantages of the tournament’s location seemed most on the minds of Mexico and Brazil.

“It’s a strong group [B] we have found ourselves in, with some speedy and complicated teams,” said Mexico’s Saul Resendiz, adding, “The food and beaches here in Trinidad will remind us of home, so we are excited to be here.”

Brazilian coach Michel Marcondes da Silva said he was also happy for home comforts. “It is great here in this country – we have similar weather and food, and the people are just like Brazilians.”

If Brazil was happy, its Group D rival Canada was less so.

“I don’t think it could get a lot tougher,” laughed Canadian coach Bryan Rosenfeld. “Ghana was unlucky not to qualify from their group in 2008, and I would expect another skilful, athletic team. Brazil won CONMEBOL (Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol), making them a top seed; and the second-best European team will always be a good side.”

Group C looks like a tough assignment for New Zealand and Venezuela, as evidenced by their respective reactions.

“With so few teams it was always going to be a tough draw,” said New Zealand’s David Edmondson. “We will do the best we can. We’re looking forward to our time here.”

Keneth Zseremeta, coach of Venezuela, appeared content just to be part of the action.

“It is great for us to have reached our first finals. Our aim is to gain experience, and anything beyond that will be great for us.”

The top two finishers from each group move forward to the quarter-finals, and the winners to the semis, before the Hasely Crawford Stadium final on September 25 at 6pm.

Locations

The matches will be played in five locations to give maximum exposure to the event. The Hasely Crawford Stadium (Port of Spain); Larry Gomes (Arima/Malabar); Ato Boldon (Couva); Manny Ramjohn (Marabella) are in the north-east, east, central and south Trinidad respectively. There will also be games at the Dwight Yorke Stadium (Scarborough) in Tobago. All the stadiums except the Hasely Crawford Stadium were constructed for the 2001 FIFA U17 Men’s World Cup, the first major tournament hosted by Trinidad & Tobago.

Where to get tickets

Over 150,000 tickets will be printed for the championship, with group matches priced at TT$40 for covered stands and TT$20 uncovered. During the knockout phase, seats in covered stands will cost TT$60 and uncovered TT$40. For tickets, call 800 FANS (3267) or go to: www.shop.ttffonline.com or www.fifa.com/u17womensworldcup/index.html

And the winner is…

As defending champions, North Korea are fancied once again but all three Asian sides – North Korea, South Korea and Japan – are expected to challenge.

“But Germany has always been consistent as well,” said Rosenfeld. “They reached the semi-finals in 2008 and have looked good again in qualification, so you will definitely see a lot of quality from them.”

This will be a closely fought tournament. Rosenfeld’s Canadian team knocked out 2008 runners-up USA en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, in Costa Rica in March.

“We’re not necessarily one of the favourites, but I think traditionally strong teams in the women’s game will know now they will have to be prepared when they play Canada.”

The number of nations making their World Cup debut is something which excites FIFA’s Head of Women’s Competitions, Tatjana Haenni.

“There are a lot of new names in this tournament. It’s important that new teams are qualifying, and it’s an example of how the women’s game is developing and how it can develop even further and touch more parts of the globe.”

The tournament has already had a significant impact on hosts Trinidad & Tobago, who have brought in one of the best coaches in the women’s game, Norwegian Even Pellerud. Pellerud is 18 months into a four-year contract as T&T’s technical director of women’s programmes. He has been hired not only to coach the U17s at this tournament but to lay the foundations for the women’s game in the country.

“We have a senior team; an U20 team, which has made good progress, but did not qualify for their World Cup; an U17 team, of course; an U15 team, which is competing in this year’s Youth Olympic Games; and we’ve also started an U13 development programme. So there are levels of progression all the way through from U13 to the seniors.

“The development I have seen in such a short time is very exciting. It will help establish football here in Trinidad & Tobago, because I don’t think the culture has necessarily encouraged girls to play competitive sports,” said Pellerud, who coached Canada’s women to fourth place in the 2003 World Cup and eighth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“It will be very encouraging, even inspirational, for all Caribbean countries if we have some success here.”

Jack Warner agrees.

“Women’s football has always been undervalued, even neglected, in the Caribbean as a whole and in Trinidad & Tobago specifically. This World Cup provides a platform for international attention, but [also], more to the point, for domestic focus on the women’s game. As part of FIFA’s legacy programme, the TTFF (Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation) has committed to a number of actions that will stabilise and foment the growth and development of women’s football in Trinidad & Tobago – grassroots, schools, and league football. ”

Pellerud says since the country has launched from a standing start, Trinidad & Tobago’s World Cup expectations should be realistic.

“I was clearly told that the goal was to come out of the first round. That’s a good, realistic goal.

“It was necessary to undergo an intensive programme from the beginning and we have worked very hard. It was much needed, because a lot of these girls started playing football very late.

They have adopted my style, which is physical and direct, and they’re already a more intensive team than the seniors.”

Recent matches have included a victory over South Korea, one of the best teams in the world, a draw with Canada, an emerging force, and narrow losses to Mexico, which enjoys a well established junior programme.

“We are competitive now against a variety of styles, which we weren’t in the beginning, even though we have not fielded our best team yet. We have a large number of foreign-based players, in the USA and Canada, who we are bringing in for a two-month summer camp before the World Cup. This is exciting for me, because I know we have more in store.”

High hopes for the home team

What about the players who stand on the brink of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? What has been their experience and what are they taking from it?

For Trinidad & Tobago’s captain, 17-year-old defender Camille Borneo, Pellerud has helped mould a unity of purpose.

“Our strength as a team is our togetherness. Mr Pellerud made us understand that if you’re not together as a group, you will not win,” said the El Dorado East Secondary School student, who has 28 national caps at U17 and U20 level.

Striker Anique Walker, at 15 the youngest member of the squad, is another of those to reap the dividends of Pellerud’s professional approach.

“Coach Pellerud has made a big difference, especially with commitment, fitness and attitude. We are really fit now and have that aggressive mindset. You have to have the commitment to succeed.”

Walker, who began playing football as a four-year-old with her four brothers and two sisters, has clear goals for the tournament and urges the local public to support their team.

“I want to be on the starting XI and to make a difference, not only to participate. I know we’re going to surprise people, I know we’re going to do well. It’s history if we win one game – but we want to take it further than that and win the World Cup.”