Caribbean outsiders Haiti reached their first FIFA U-17 World Cup thanks to some impressive performances in CONCACAF Qualifying Group A in Tegucigalpa, Honduras between 4 and 8 April. Under the stewardship of coach Jean-Yves Labaze, the technically gifted, but previously disorganised, islanders found their true form and stormed to the top of the group thanks to two draws and a 3-0 thumping of El Salvador. The Haitians will be joined in the Far East by fellow debutants and qualifying hosts Honduras who also finished on five points from two draws and a win, but were edged out for first on goal difference.
If Haiti's surge was a substantial surprise, mighty Mexico's winless display in the Honduran capital had pundits and fans alike scratching their heads in complete befuddlement. The defending world champions failed to summon up the inspiration that their previous crop, led by Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, produced down in Peru two years ago to bring a first major world trophy back home to Mexico. With three points from three draws and only scoring one goal, world-beater head coach Jesus Ramirez' youthful El Tri will be heading back home with many questions that need answering. Finishing just above El Salvador in the final standings was not exactly what was expected of the green-clad side upon arrival in Honduras.
Few would have put their money on Haiti making too many waves in the qualifying competition at the outset, much less on their winning the group outright. But after their first match on Wednesday 4 April it became clear that these were not the side of previous competitions - as their runners-up finish at last year's CONCACAF Youth Cup might have suggested.
Facing a hostile and boisterous Honduran home crowd in their first outing, the islanders managed a highly credible draw against the talented local outfit. They opened the scoring on 15 minutes through Jean Francis Fabien Vorbe and, despite allowing an equaliser just three minutes later, hung on to pull out a hard-earned point.
Their second match saw the Haitians align a sense of defensive assurance with their ages-old technical brilliance - a 0-0 draw with Mexico had them in good shape heading into their third and final game against struggling El Salvador. They then turned on the style on 8 April and three goals from Herold Junior Charles, Normil Valdo and Vorbe were enough to see them sail to an easy win (3-0) and seal first place in the group thanks to Honduras' 0-0 draw with Mexico later in the day which was marred by two red cards and very little creative football of any kind.
Considering their hot form down in Tegucigalpa, the future is looking bright for Haiti, whose senior side were crowned champions of the Caribbean for the first time just one month ago.
Honduras heat up
Runners-up and fellow world finalists Honduras will also be fancying their chances of good times in Korea, having put a dubious distinction to rights during their qualifying run. The only side to have participated in all 12 U-16 and U-17 CONCACAF qualifying tournaments, they had never reached a FIFA U-17 World Cup. All that so-close-yet-so-far disappointment is over now, though, as the Central Americans will be heading to their debutant party in the Far East this summer with hopes of pulling some results against the big boys of Planet Football.
The three remaining CONCACAF contenders at Korea 2007 will be known after Qualifying Group B in Kingston, Jamaica between 28 April and 6 May. The United States - the only side to have qualified for every U-17 world showpiece since its inception back in 1985 - will take on the colourful host Jamaicans, Central American powers Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Canada to decide which three sides will round out the five teams from North, Central America and the Caribbean to travel to the Far East for this summer's festivities.
Save for UEFA (Europe), CONCACAF is only confederation sending five nations to Korea 2007.