Colombia feeling just champion

"Our objective is to win the world title." Coming from the coaches of tournament favourites Germany, Brazil or USA, that statement of intent would barely raise an eyebrow. But with the FIFA Women's U-17 World Cup New Zealand set to kick off in just a few days time, Colombia tactician Pedro Ignacio Rodriguez is demanding the rest of the world sit up and take notice of his protégés.

And if his side's recent performances are anything to go by, Rodriguez's bullish declaration certainly seems to have some substance to it. Rank outsiders going into the South American qualification tournament in Chile, the Cafeteritas walked away with the continental championship, an outcome that surprised everyone, or almost everyone. Rodriguez, for one, never had any doubt his girls would come good when it mattered.

As he told "Everyone was talking about Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay or Venezuela, but whenever I was asked who was going to qualify for the World Cup I just told them 'Colombia and two other teams'. And if you ask me today who I think is going to win the tournament, I'd answer in the exactly same way: Colombia."

For all his drive and commitment, however, the Colombia boss is affable and easy-going at heart. Indeed, far from being founded on arrogance, Rodriguez's prediction instead rests on ambition and a burning desire to be competitive.

"If you're going to take part in a World Cup, you've got to try and win it," he says. "Otherwise, it's not worth coming. Any team competing in an international tournament has to believe they've got a chance of winning it, and if they don't believe that then they shouldn't be representing their country."

This is nothing short of a revolution for our nation,
Rodriguez believes his U-17 team have started something special.

Adding to the motivation of the young Colombians is the fact that they are the first team in the country's history to qualify for a FIFA Women's World Cup at any age group. "" comments the man responsible for guiding them this far. "This generation represents the first part of a long-term project, and these players now have to go on and qualify for major competitions in the future, especially the next U-20 World Cup and the Olympic Tournament, and aim for the title every time."

The Cafeteritas will need to be motivated if they are to advance from Group A, where they will face some stiff competition from hosts New Zealand, Canada and Denmark. "We are the odd team out in the group," comments Rodriguez. "The three other sides are big and physical, while my players are small and technical. Even so, what we lack in stature we can make up for with our individual and team skills, and rather than trying to iron out our weaknesses, we'll be looking to make even more of our strengths."

The South American champions will be without some of their leading players in New Zealand, among them the highly promising Laura Cosme, struck down with a serious cruciate ligament injury. "It's true that we've lost one of our best players, but since we won the continental title we've become mentally stronger. In this age category, every team plays with more or less the same tactics and it's the mental aspect that makes the difference. And that's an area where we're very strong."

The rest of the world will have an opportunity to see how just how strong when Rodriguez's charges take on the Danes in their first match on Wednesday. "They're a powerful team and in excellent shape," he says. "I'd say they're the strongest team in Europe behind Germany."

If they are to progress from a tough section, the South Americans will need to draw on all the assets that helped them to continental success a few months ago. "We finished champions with the best attack and the best defence. So we must have had the best coach too, wouldn't you say?" concludes the jovial Rodriguez with a hearty laugh.

Joking aside, there can be no question the Colombia coach and his charges mean business.