The opening day of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan promises to be an exciting one. Groups A and B will get the tournament up and running in Baku and Lankaran, and in USA, France, Nigeria and Korea DPR, four of the favourites get straight into the action.
Match of the day
France - USA, Lankaran, 22 September 2012, 15:00 (local time)
There is only one title missing from the otherwise bulging trophy cabinet in US women’s football. After their latest success at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan, victory at U-17 level is next on the agenda.
And considering their current form, it is easy to see why USA are among the favourites. Most recently, coach Albertin Montoya’s side beat Slovenia 2-1, having previously dominated the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship in Guatemala, where they took the crown after scoring 26 goals without reply.
On Saturday they go up against European runners-up France in Group B. After reaching the final of the first ever UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship in 2008, Les Bleuettes also made it to the title-deciding match both in 2011 and earlier this year.
While France have lost on each occasion, their consistency proves they are one of Europe's best teams in this age category. The two sides have met just once before at a FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup, drawing 1-1 in New Zealand in 2008.
Meanwhile, Korea DPR and newcomers Gambia are set to round off Group B. Though the Asian nation won the inaugural edition of the competition in New Zealand 2008 and came fourth two years later in Trinidad & Tobago, it is the first time Gambia have ever qualified for a major international women’s tournament and they go as rank outsiders into this match.
In Group A, hosts Azerbaijan are set to make their bow, with coach Sissy Raith having had just two-and-a-half years to prepare her charges for the finals. In their opening match against Colombia, they will take on “the second strongest women’s side in South America, after Brazil”, as Colombia coach Felipe Taborda described his team in an interview with FIFA.com. However, the Latin Americans are still yet to win a game at a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
The other fixture in this group pits top teams Nigeria and Canada against each other, neither of whom have ever missed out on a women’s tournament at this level.
Player to watch
With 12 goals for the U-17s in CONCACAF qualifying, striker Summer Green is one of the hottest prospects in this Stars and Stripes squad. She scored five times in the space of 70 minutes against Bahamas and netted hat-tricks against both Panama and Mexico. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that coach Montoya views her as “currently one of the best forwards there are in the USA”.
3 - This will be the third time Korea DPR have faced an African outfit in their opening game at a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. They drew 1-1 with Ghana at New Zealand 2008, lost 3-2 to Nigeria at Trinidad & Tobago 2010 and now play Gambia at Azerbaijan 2012.
“I watched France at the European Championship and their style of play impressed me. It’s similar to how we play here in the USA: they keep the ball on the ground and have some very dynamic players in attack,” USA coach Albertin Montoya.
Korea DPR - Gambia (Baku, 8 km Stadium, 13.00)
Nigeria - Canada (Baku, Tofig Bahramov Stadium,17.00)
Azerbaijan - Colombia (Baku, Tofig Bahramov Stadium, 20.00)
France - USA (Lankaran, Lankaran City Stadium, 15.00)
(All kick-off times are local)