There could be no more apt a setting for 24 young teams to learn their fates than the massive knowledge centre known as Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. And FIFA.com chased down the coaches and team representatives on hand for Tuesday's FIFA U-17 World Cup Draw to see how they were feeling.
“We have been working with our young players for a long while now,” said Mexico’s former international defender and junior coach Raul Gutierrez, who knows full well the pressure on his shoulders. “This tournament is very important for us and we have a responsibility to the country to do our best. This could be a great moment for Mexico,” he said in the corridor of the Sala Nezahualcóyotl, the venue of the Official Draw on 17 May, a little more than one month from the tournament’s kick-off.
Drawn into a challenging Group A, Mexico and their boss will have their work cut navigating past reigning Asian champions Korea DPR, African upstarts Congo and the European toppers from the Netherlands. Dutch co-ordinator of national youth teams Fernando Arrabal promised a bit of panache from their youngsters, who finished the recent European qualifying tournament as champions, routing arch-rivals Germany 5-2 in the final: “The fans can expect an attractive and technical football from us. Our goal is to give the public something to savour.”
Ecuador find themselves in another tense section and head coach Xavier Rodriguez is in nervous mood. “It’s such an even thing on paper,” he declared. Germany are one of the sides in Ecuador’s Group E, alongside African toppers Burkina Faso and first-timers Panama. German boss Steffen Freund, a former stalwart with Tottenham and Schalke, has one thing on his mind: “The round of 16 is our committed aim. If we achieve this, anything is possible after that.”
Argentina’s coach Oscar Garre has set his sights even higher than his German counterpart. “We want to win the title,” he said with a cool calm. “It’s the one thing Argentina is missing from its trophy cabinet,” he added. In his way will be France, who were crowned champions at the U-17 finals in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001. “France and Argentina are both strong football nations,” said French coach Patrick Gonfalone. “But this is an open section, full of possibilities.”
Group D will take place primarily in Torreon and sees USA – the only team to have qualified for all 14 FIFA U-17 World Cups – up against Asian new boys Uzbekistan, up-and-comers New Zealand and the Czech Republic, whose youth teams director, Dusan Fitzel, promises “a good team spirit and a high-pressure, attacking game.”
Côte d'Ivoire coach Jean-Marc Nobillo is admirably optimistic about his side’s chances in a very complicated Group F which boasts three-time champions Brazil, Australia and European dark horses Denmark. “We have had a lot of difficulty in our country of late,” he admitted. “But we will use the time we have to be ready. There are big surprises in football and we can be one of them!”
Rwandan hopes and Danish dreams
Fellow Africans Rwanda are a team with a dream. Trying to move past the genocide that once marked their country in the world’s eyes, the youngsters – who finished second as hosts of the African qualifiers – will not be taken lightly. We are going to try to do our best,” said FA President Jean-Bosco Kazura. “We are not here as part of the crowd; we’re here to show our mettle and to show the world what we can do on the football pitch.” It will be no easy ask as they are drawn with Canada, Uruguay and England, who coach John Peacock says will play “attacking football.”
Denmark coach Thomas Frank had the final word, and he is not worried about his U-17 debutantes landing in what he calls “the group of death." He intends to use Mexico 2011 to celebrate Danish football's finer side. “Twenty five years ago our national team played their first World Cup here in Mexico. We consider ourselves the Brazilians of Scandinavia,” he laughed. “And we are here to win.” The Brazilians of South America may have something to say about that come 18 June and the start of hostilities, but as of now each team has the same chance – and the same hope – of world glory.