NZ 2008 hopefuls learn their fate

Wellington took centre stage today as New Zealand's capital city played host to the official draw for the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

High-ranking officials from FIFA, the New Zealand government and all 11 confirmed participating nations descended on the city's Te Papa Museum for the red carpet event; the biggest and most significant milestone before the tournament kicks off on 28 October.

With Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria still battling for Africa's two berths and CONCACAF's qualifying competition yet to conclude, five names were missing from those pulled from the hat at the glittering ceremony. Nevertheless, the task ahead for the seeded Kiwi hosts and their European, Asian and South American visitors has become considerably clearer, with the draw throwing up some mouth-watering clashes between the emerging forces in women's youth football.

Germany, Korea DPR and Colombia number among the early favourites for FIFA's newest tournament, with all three having claimed gold at their respective preliminary tournaments. However, with the likes of Brazil, France, Japan and the yet-to-be decided African and CONCACAF contenders added to the mix, New Zealand 2008 promises to be exciting and unpredictable from the outset.

Group A
A1 New Zealand
A2 CONCACAF A
A3 Denmark
A4 Colombia

Group B
B1 CONCACAF B
B2 Germany
B3 Korea DPR
B4 CAF B

Group C
C1 Japan
C2 CONCACAF 1*
C3 France
C4 Paraguay

Group D
D1 Brazil
D2 England
D3 Korea Republic
D4 CAF A

* The winners of the yet-to-be-contested CONCACAF preliminary competition, who were seeded in the draw.

Still to qualify
CAF: Two from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria.
CONCACAF: Three from Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago and USA.

The draw has also illuminated fans and organisers at the four Host Cities, with Auckland staging the opening two matches of Group A, Christchurch acting as the primary venue for Group B, Hamilton welcoming Group C and Wellington reassuming the role of gracious host for those competing in Group D.

New Zealand, which has been gearing up ever since beating off six rival nations for the right to host this tournament, will now ramp up its preparations for an event that, according to Local Organising Committee CEO Chris Simpson, is much bigger than most people would realise. He said: "There is a perception that because it is an age-group women's event, it is small fry. That couldn't be further from the truth. The television rights have been bought by more than 150 territories throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and America."

This island nation in the south-west Pacific has, of course, hosted a world youth tournament once before, and Simpson is now out to eclipse the success enjoyed during and after the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1999. "FIFA has indicated that '99 was a great success and we now have the responsibility of ensuring this year's event is just as successful," he said. "We have done an economic impact report into how valuable this event is to New Zealand and it has been conservatively estimated at $30 million into the economy."

While the organisers eye the legacy the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup will leave, the fans will merely be eager to gain an early glimpse of the Martas and Birgit Prinzs of tomorrow. As for the teams? They will be focussed purely on becoming this tournament's first-ever champions.