The road to Mexico takes shape
© LOC

Dates and venues for the regional qualifying competitions for the 14th FIFA U-17 World Cup are taking shape, with a little under one year to go before the finals get underway in earnest. In all, 24 teams from FIFA’s six confederations will qualify for the U-17 showpiece to be staged in Mexico.

Asia (AFC) will send four participants to the finals which will take place in June and July of 2011 across seven venues in Mexico. The region’s U-16 championship will run from 24 October to 7 November 2010 in the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan. Four groups of four will vie for four available spots, with the semi-finalists eventually booking passage to the World Cup. Iran are defending champions from 2008 while perennial powers Korea Republic will see no action at Pakhtakor or Jar Stadium, having failed to qualify.

Oceania (OFC) will produce one participant for Mexico, with the qualifiers taking place between 8 and 21 January 2011. New Zealand, hosts of the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup, were the last champions in the South Seas region. They reached the Round of 16 before being thumped 5-0 by hosts Nigeria in 2009 in what was the nation’s first-ever foray to the knockout stages of the global junior showpiece.

Europe (UEFA) is home to defending U-17 world champions Switzerland, who shocked the host nation in the final at last year’s tournament in Nigeria. A preliminary qualifying round of 52 teams will conclude in November 2010 on the Old Continent, with an eight-team final tournament getting underway in May 2011. The top six finishers will qualify directly for Mexico.

South America (CONMEBOL), home to three-time champions Brazil, will begin their journey towards the U-17 finals in Ecuador, with the qualifying tournament running through March 2011. Although the specifics of the competition have yet to be determined [as of 9 August 2010], the top four finishers will move on to Mexico 2011.

North, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) have already begun the preliminary phases of their qualifying competition which will eventually culminate in a final eight-team tournament with dates and venue yet to be determined. USA are the only side ever to qualify for all 13 previous editions of the world junior finals and must be considered favourites once again, especially with hosts Mexico qualifying automatically.

Africa (CAF) will contest its final qualifying tournament in January 2011, with a preliminary round of matches taking place on a home-and-away basis in August, September and November 2010. The top four finishers on the Mother Continent, home to three-time champions Nigeria and twice winners Ghana, will stamp their tickets to the big show in Mexico.