The main ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, teetering on the edge of Trinidad’s brilliant western coast, was packed full of eager coaches, officials and even a few players as the balls came out for Wednesday’s official draw for the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
“Not long ago FIFA President Blatter said ‘the future of football is feminine,’ and although I think that it was a bit of an overstatement, it was essentially true. I think that it is still true today,” was the direct assessment of one bound to know a bit about football, Franz Beckenbauer, FIFA World Cup™ winner and Chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women’s World Cups. The establishment of a U-17 Women’s World Cup is a great and necessary platform to help promote the women’s game, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it. There is much potential in women’s football and it begins with the young ones. That is why I am here on this beautiful island in the Caribbean.”
Local music rang through the cavernous room at the start of the festivities. Eight-piece band Mungal Patasar and Pantar, featuring steel pan, sitar and hand drums, highlighted the cultural crossroads that is Trinidad and Tobago. A rousing speech followed from Beckenbauer, who focussed on how impressed he was by the first FIFA U-17 finals in New Zealand two years ago, calling it a “fantastic surprise and success.”
FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF president Jack A. Warner kept on with the theme, pointing to “the tremendous achievement of my small country, Trinidad and Tobago – the smallest nation ever to host two FIFA World Cup tournaments – to have coordinated and prepared what is bound to be a successful event.” And after the ceremonial handover of the official FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup trophy and some more whimsical local rhythms from renowned steel pan man and national treasure Ray Holman, the decks were cleared for the main event.
Out came the bowls and the balls. So too did Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s head of women’s football, to coordinate the process.
Former German international Steffi Jones was among those four charged with pulling the balls from the bowls, and in so doing, sealing the first-round fate of 12 of the 16 teams who will take part in the second FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup from 5 to 25 September in the host cities of Arima/Malabar, Couva, Marabella, Port of Spain (Trinidad) and Scarborough (Tobago).
As the names were pulled, a hush descended on the gathered crowd. However, it didn’t take long before a few chuckles were heard in the dark as Group A took shape, a light-hearted acknowledgment that the debutant hosts were in for a tough go up against holders Korea DPR, Chile and Nigeria in the opening stages. “It is a very balanced group,” said Trinidad and Tobago boss and women’s football legend Even Pellerud in the understatement of the evening. “We will set our sights on getting out of the group stages and I believe in my players and the efforts they will put in.”
As the affair wound down and hungry guests began to eye the kitchen doors, the rhythms of the islands once again rang and local dancers swung their hips. Representatives from the gathered teams pondered their fate and began the pain-staking process of planning their course to Korea DPR’s crown.