The first two nations to reach this summer's FIFA U-17 World Cup from the North, Central American and Caribbean zone will be known after qualifying Group A wraps in Honduras. The Tiburcio Carias Andino Stadium in Tegucigalpa will play host to defending junior world champions and heavy favourites Mexico, island outsiders Haiti, El Salvador and hosts Honduras from 4 to 8 April.
The top two finishers from the Honduran showpiece will qualify directly for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic from 18 August to 9 September.
In the third CONCACAF U-17 qualifying group to be hosted in the Honduran capital, the blue-and-white-clad home side will be keen to qualify for their first-ever FIFA U-17 world showpiece. Led by head coach Miguel Angel Escalanete, they will be banking on home advantage and hoping to put a dubious distinction to rights. The Central American side are the only CONCACAF team to have participated in all 12 U-16 and U-17 qualifying events, but have never managed to reach a world finals. With a solid backline forged in the fires of domestic club giants Olimpia, the homeboys will also be looking for attacking output from such talents of tomorrow as Carlos Alexis Cruz and Jose Arael Garay.
Mighty Mexico will be far-and-away the favourites to take top
spot in Group A and hoping to build on the exploits of the side
that swooped to be crowned world champions in Peru in 2005 . No
longer able to count on the sizzling contributions of outstanding
attacking pair Carlos Vela and Giovanni dos Santos (both have moved
onto the U-20 side that will play at the world finals in Canada
this July), Jesus Ramirez' Mexican outfit will be hoping to put
a new generation of young studs on the world scene.
Qualifying directly for the final round, Mexico have won the most U-17 regional championships (four) and their eight appearances at the FIFA U-17 World Cup is second only to the USA in North, Central America and the Caribbean. With defensive midfielder and captain Octavio Aceves of Chivas - one of ten members of the squad affiliated to the Guadalajara club - plugging holes, El Tri's rearguard will be one of the fiercest in Tegucigalpa. They have not conceded a goal in 664 minutes of competitive football.
El Salvador and Haiti will be considered outsiders in the four-team group, but could still cause the hosts and hot favourites Mexico some significant problems. El Salvador finished runners-up at their Central American pre-qualifying group and are led by the experienced hand of head coach Jose Norberto Huezo, who steered the side to impressive recent wins over Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama before going down to Costa Rica in the sub-regional final. Regulars at CONACAF U-17 qualifying, the Cuscatlecos have yet to reach a FIFA world finals.
Haiti - whose senior side recently took the honours at the Caribbean Championship - will be hoping to spring a big surprise under the stewardship of coach Jean Yves Labaze. The islanders reached the final round in Honduras by finishing runners-up - and best Caribbean finishers - at last year's Youth Cup. Along the way, they got edged out Barbados, Surinam and hosts Trinidad and Tobago and will be desperate to reach their first FIFA U-17 World Cup with some good stretches in Tegucigalpa.
CONCACAF Group B will take place in the Jamaican capital of Kingston and, unlike Group A, the top three finishers will head to the world finals in Korea Republic. With five eventual participants, CONACAF will have the most representatives from all of the confederations in Korea (UEFA also have five).
Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, the USA - the only team to have qualified for every FIFA U-17 World Championship since its inception in 1985 - and hosts Jamaica will battle it out between 28 April and 6 May in the picturesque tropical environs of Kingston to decide the last three qualifiers to Korea from the CONCACAF region.