Canada, USA lead the way up north
The draw for the CONCACAF final U-19 women’s qualifying tournament was made at the confederation’s New York City headquarters on 5 April 2004. The host Canadians were placed at the top of Group A, along with Mexico, Jamaica and Panama. Inaugural and defending champions the United States will take on Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and the Dominican Republic in Group B. FIFA.com caught up with Canada boss Ian Bridge for a quick chat ahead of the big dance.
The two-group, eight-team competition runs from 28 May to 6 June at Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium and Montreal’s McGill University Molson Stadium in Canada. The top two finishers will go on to represent the region at the FIFA U-19 World Championship Thailand 2004 in November.
As hosts of the first-ever FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship nearly two years ago, the previously unfancied Canucks caused quite a stir as they roared to the Final on the shoulders of such current senior team standouts as Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang. The coach now, as then, is FIFA World Cup™ veteran Ian Bridge.
“I think overall this team is as strong or maybe even stronger than the one that did so well in Edmonton in 2002,” the boss, who lined up for Canada at Mexico 86, admitted from his home in Vancouver. “Of course we don’t have Christine Sinclair and that will hurt us. But she is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player.”
The dramatic success of Canada 2002 had the entire nation – known more for its devotion to ice hockey than the beautiful game – caught up in a true footballing frenzy. Almost 48,000 vociferous supporters packed into Edmonton’s Commonwealth stadium for the all-North American final that saw the U.S. sneak the result via the now-defunct golden goal. And for a full two weeks, Sinclair’s 10 goals and the overall panache of the young hosts had the whole nation understandably enthralled.
So many people here in Canada followed the competition and it was a huge success,” continued Bridge. “Of course this is a different team, but the kind of excitement the girls generated two years ago is still there and hopefully they will come out and support us during qualifying … Mexico will surely be our toughest test of that opening round, but you can’t overlook anyone.”
Reaching that fabled final and the senior side’s semi-final run at USA 2003 constitute the crest of a successful wave for Canada. But failure to book a spot in Athens for this summer’s showpiece Olympic event after losing to underdogs Mexico has thrown a spanner in the works.
“Missing out on the Olympics was a big bump in the road here in Canada,” said Bridge, who also works with Even Pellerud as assistant coach of the senior side. “But the big question is, what we do after the bump. In the end, the important thing is how we react to the setback. We need to get back on the road to success and progress as quickly as possible.”
Defending champions the United States, Canada’s biggest footballing rivals and immediate neighbours to the south, will again be the team to watch. “The U.S. is very strong as all U.S. teams are, especially the women’s teams,” Bridge said. “They are tough as nails, dynamic, talented and organised. For sure they will be the favourites in qualifying…they are always the favourites.”
4 June, Montreal’s McGill University Molson Stadium
Group B Winner v. Group A Runner-up
Group A Winner v. Group B Runner-up
6 June, Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium