It was a case of the usual suspects making their way through to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 in the CONCACAF region, with traditional giants USA, Canada, and Mexico all booking their place at the world finals.
USA finished atop the eight-nation qualifying pool with a narrow 1-0 defeat of fellow-qualifiers Canada in the final, while Mexico grabbed the third ticket in style after a 6-0 thrashing of Panama. The qualifying competition, which took place in Guatemala, unfolded at fast pace as the three Azerbaijan-bound sides were tasked with five matches in just ten days.
At the start of the tournament, perhaps, the biggest talking point was USA’s failure to qualify for Trinidad & Tobago 2010 last time around and how they would avenge that disappointment. The Americans quickly silenced any skeptics, though, with a 10-0 victory over Bahamas right out the gate in Group B before going on to sweep their group which also included Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, the United States kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament while scoring 26 goals in total.
A Summer Green hat-trick helped USA to a 7-0 semi-final triumph against Panama and more importantly, an assured place at Azerbaijan 2012. Green certainly proved the brightest star in the American attack as she enjoyed three multi-goal games en route to not only clinching top scoring honours in the final round of the championship, but setting the record for most goals scored with 12. However, it was an Amber Munerlyn goal that proved decisive in the final against rivals Canada.
USA coach Albertin Montoya was pleased with his side’s progress: “Two weeks together in Guatemala has helped us grow as a team and has brought the coaching staff closer as well. It’s a special time for all of us and we learned some valuable lessons in this tournament. [We learned] a few things we need to work on and that will make us better for the World Cup.”
Canada settle for silver
Northern rivals Canada also advanced to the global showpiece, for their third successive time, with relative ease. Another forward by the same first-name moniker as Green, Summer Clarke, scored in all three of the Canadians' Group A victories over Panama, Jamaica, and Guatemala to lead the side with six goals. Valerie Sanderson, meanwhile, proved a vital asset throughout and hit the winner against Mexico in the semi-finals, while the likes of Kadiesha Buchanan stood strong defensively to send the Canucks through to Azerbaijan.
“I’m very excited,” Buchanan said after Canada booked their place. “We put in the hard work in the training camps for seven months and it’s been amazing. And I just feel the energy from all those camps.”
Despite dominating much of possession and resigning the United States to defending throughout much of the final, Canada were made to settle for second at the tournament after having sealed a historic penalty win over the Americans during the semi-finals of these qualifiers back in 2010.
Mexico clinch third spot
Although Mexico lost to Canada in the semi-finals, a third qualifying spot was still up for grabs. Coached by senior level manager Leonardo Cuellar, and even without much preparation time, the Mexicans marched out to an impressive start with back-to-back wins over T&T and Bahamas before falling to defeats against USA and then Canada. In a third-place match against Panama, Luz Duarte tallied four goals as El Tricolor hit six goals without reply and dominated nearly all the possession against the Central Americans.
“It was amazing,” said Mexican forward Duarte about clinching the third and final ticket to Azerbaijan 2012. “I have no words to explain what I felt on the field. I knew it was either win or go home empty-handed and that just gave me the attitude and passion to put those goals out there. I think we have the abilities to play a good World Cup.”