European trio reach NZ 2008

France, England and Denmark will all compete at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup after claiming three of Europe's four tickets to New Zealand 2008.

These last of these three nations confirmed their places yesterday as valiant challenges from the likes of Scotland, Finland and the Netherlands were seen off in a series of mini-tournaments across the old continent.

Germany, Sweden, Poland and Switzerland will now do battle for the fourth and final European berth when they converge on the German city of Essen between 10 and 15 April before the four group winners travel to Nyon, Switzerland in May to compete for the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship title.

France were the first of the European contingent to qualify for this final stage, beating Scotland by a solitary Pauline Crammer goal to settle a dramatic winner-takes-all clash in Canet-en-Roussillon. Both sides had won their two opening second stage matches against Norway and the Republic of Ireland without conceding a single goal in the process, and despite a brave effort from the Scottish youngsters, Crammer's strike on the hour-mark settled the match in the hosts' favour.

Les Bleuettes, whose record over the first and second stage of qualifying showed six wins from six and a goal difference of 36 for and none against, had certainly set an impressive standard, and heading into the weekend's final round of matches, no fewer than five teams were in contention to join them.

Danish delight, English elation
Group 4 was staged in Denmark and, again, the hosts came out on top, although it was by the slimmest of margins that they progressed at Finland's expense. At half-time in both matches, the Finns -1-0 up on Iceland - were in pole position to reach New Zealand, with Russia holding the Danes to a goalless draw elsewhere.

However, while Finland went on to claim a resounding 4-2 win, second half strikes from Amanda Hohol and Britta Olsen sealed a 2-0 victory for Denmark that put them top of the section with a narrowly superior goal difference of 6-2 to the Finns' 5-2.

There were to be no such twists and turns in Group 1, where England - needing only to draw against the Netherlands - held on to claim the requisite 0-0 scoreline in the Czech city of Lota. The hosts themselves, meanwhile, beat Belgium 3-1 to claim third, but it was too little too late to prevent the English advancing to New Zealand, and to a 20 May European semi-final against the French.

Ten of the first-ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup participants are now known, with the European trio joining Korea DPR, Japan, Korea Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay and, of course, the Kiwi hosts in confirming their participation. Events in Essen will now decide whether it is the Germans, or one of the visiting hopefuls, who take spot number 11.

Wellington takes centre stage
The European champions will be crowned on 25 May and, within a week, all eyes will turn to Wellington, which was confirmed last Thursday as the venue for New Zealand 2008's Official Draw. The Kiwi capital, and its renowned national museum Te Papa, was identified as the ideal site to host the event during a FIFA inspection tour last February.

"In New Zealand, we were in the fortunate position of having many great options to choose from in relation to selecting the host city for the draw" said FIFA Head of Women's Competitions Tatjana Haenni. "However in Wellington, we have a spectacularly beautiful city which is also the centre of government and a real stronghold for football. Te Papa itself is also a splendid iconic national facility which will showcase New Zealand's cultural heritage."

Chris Simpson, CEO of the Local Organising Committee, added: "This also means that our four host cities will share honours for prestigious events centred around this FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, with Auckland hosting the Opening Ceremony and Final, and Hamilton and Christchurch staging quarter and semi-finals respectively."