No quarter for Latin contingent
© Foto-net

In the wake of 24 action-packed group-phase encounters, the curtain has come down on the first round of the inaugural edition of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup here at New Zealand 2008. Taking the lion's share of the plaudits so far have been the competition's Asian represenatives, all of whom have reached the quarter-final stage, while North America and Europe are also well represented. This stands in stark contrast to their Latin American counterparts, with Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica all conspicuous by the absence from the last eight line-up.

This quartet harboured widely differing expectations upon their arrival on Oceania soil, but all four exited the tournament at the first hurdle, having finished bottom of their respective groups. The aspirations of the Costa Rican and Paraguayan camps were of the modest variety, but South American champions Colombia had set their sights on pulling off a surprise on their first appearance in the finals of a FIFA women's competition. "Our objective is the world title," Pedro Rodriguez, coach of the Cafeteritas, told "When you take part in a World Cup, you have to go in it to win it. If not, it's not worth coming."

Yet after following up draws against Denmark and Canada by crashing to defeat against the host nation, the Colombians fell some way short of the goal set by their ambitious coach. Nevertheless, Rodriguez feels positives can still be drawn from the experience: "Qualifying for this tournament is a real revolution for our country. This generation is the foundation stone of a long-term project and ought to qualify for subsequent major tournaments."

Luck of the draw
Thrown into Group B alongside up-and-coming African side Ghana and women's football heavyweights Germany and Korea DPR, the Costa Rican players knew they were in for a challenging time. And despite losing each of their games, the Ticas bowed out with their heads held high after displays belying their inexperience and underdog status.

"Even though we let Germany beat us too easily, we were able to pick ourselves up and prove that Costa Rican football is worthy of a place among the best national teams at this level," coach Juan Diego Quesada said, in reference to narrow defeats against Korea DPR and Ghana.

Scorer of the Ticas' only goal, Raquel Rodriguez Cedeno was one of the revelations of the first round. Allied to her excellent individual performances, the forward's New Zealand adventure included her 15th birthday celebrations on 28 October, the young starlet and her team-mates enjoying a veritable feast of cakes, sweets and music from back home.

The Paraguayan players had a similar tale to tell, after the draw paired them with the United States, France and Japan. Refusing to shirk the challenge ahead, the Albirrojas stuck to their attacking philosophy, often at the expense of a defensive line that shipped 16 goals in three matches - the worst record in the first round. Shining bright, however, was the speed and skill of forward Gloria Villamayor and the leadership and positional sense of defender Paola Genes.

Too heavy a burden
The final member of the quartet heading prematurely for home are Brazil, who bid farewell to Oceania with a suitcase full of regrets. Though the Canarinhas fleetingly hinted at doing justice to their country's weighty footballing reputation, thanks in large part to attacking prodigy Ketlen, without ever unleashing their full potential. Group D rivals England and Korea Republic took full advantage by downing the Auriverdes in their opening two matches, before the Seleção belatedly came to life against Nigeria.

In the event, the 2-2 draw against the Flamingoes denied the African outfit a place in the quarter-finals, but was not enough for the South Americans to avoid a painful early exit. "The pressure might have been too great for my players," says coach Marcos Gaspar. "Representing Brazil at a World Cup is always a heavy burden to bear. We're going to learn from this competition and try to grow in confidence for the competitions ahead."