With five places still unclaimed and so little known about those teams that have made it, yesterday's official draw for the first-ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup was always going to throw up as many questions as it did answers.
However, while educated guesswork about likely favourites and nations' relative strength abounded, the sense of the unknown only seemed to add to the excitement as FIFA's newest tournament finally took shape.
England coach Lois Fidler, who watched her side land in Group D with Brazil, Korea Republic and the yet-to-be-crowned African champions, was among those who candidly confessed ignorance as to just how formidable a task that will prove. "All the teams are an unknown quantity and that's part of the beauty of this World Cup," she said.
Fidler did, however, subscribe to the widely-held belief that
Group D looks to be among the competition's toughest, though
she admitted this conclusion was based on reputations established
by generations of senior sides. "On paper, the draw could have
been kinder," said the England coach. "
This eagerness to check up on unknown adversaries was shared by Hiroshi Yoshida, head coach of Japan, who nevertheless insisted his side must focus primarily on their own strengths in Group C if they are to overcome France, Paraguay and whichever team tops the CONCACAF qualifiers.
"I am planning to get videos of other teams but the focus is really on ourselves and concentrating on what we have to do to perform well," he said. "I think that Group C and Group D will be the strongest groups. We will probably have USA from CONCACAF and I am excited to play them."
An expert neutral view came from Tatjana Haenni, a former Swiss international who has followed the regional preliminaries closely in her current role as FIFA's Head of Women's Competitions.
"Europe and Asia had tough qualifying tournaments and CONCACAF countries traditionally do well so I think Group B will be strong," said Haenni, referring to the section comprising European and Asian champions Germany and Korea DPR as well as two unknown CAF and CONCACAF contenders. "But Group D with Brazil and England also looks difficult."
Kiwi captain eyes glory
As for the tournament hosts, despite being seeded, they found themselves in a challenging section alongside South American champions Colombia, an impressive Denmark side and the runners-up from a CONCACAF qualifying tournament their coach will be following with interest.
"We will be watching the CONCACAF tournament closely in
July and waiting with bated breath to see who will be
playing," said New Zealand's Paul Temple. "But
typically CONCACAF countries do well, so the opening match will be
"Denmark has been a football powerhouse and Colombia won their qualification tournament in South America, so it will be a difficult group. But we are hoping that by combining talent, work ethic and belief we will cause some upsets and reach the quarter-finals."
Such an achievement would break new ground for New Zealand at a
FIFA finals, but Kiwi captain Briony Fisher admits that she
can't help dreaming of going one better by claiming the prize
all 16 nations covet. She said: "
Hopes of glory and unfamiliar opponents might have dominated discussion, but the anticipation and intrigue wasn't confined to matters on the park. Indeed, almost as exciting for the team's representatives as discovering their adversaries was learning where their teams would be based.
"Hamilton is the only host city I have not been to before
so I am looking forward to seeing a new place," said Yoshida.
"I am also pleased that we play our third match in
Christchurch because that is my favourite city in New
Fidler was similarly happy to have been drawn in a city with a large English ex-pat population. "We are delighted to be based in Wellington," she said. "The hospitality has been outstanding this weekend. There is also a strong English contingent here in the capital so we are hoping for a fair amount of support at our games come October."