Canada last lined up at a FIFA U-17 World Cup back in 1995 in Ecuador, where they lost all three of their group games to head for home at the first hurdle. Since then they have experienced some significant success at U-20 level, but any real progress with the U-17s has proven elusive. The northern neighbours to the United States will be eager to prove that football is a growing part of the sporting scene in the Great White North, adding to the nation’s one CONCACAF Gold Cup crown in 2000 with further improvement through the age categories.
Coached by Sean Fleming, the Canadians were not the flashiest side at the CONCACAF qualifying competition in Montego Bay, Jamaica. What they did have, however, was a cohesive defensive approach that saw them reach all the way to the final. After opening their account with a 0-0 draw against Honduras, the Canucks hammered minnows Barbados 8-0 to reach the quarter-final, where they beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 to book their place in the semi-finals and the world showpiece in Mexico. A 1-0 win over Panama followed and, suddenly, the fancied USA were up against a team in the final that had not conceded a goal in four matches. The Canadians held firm once again, not conceding until extra-time, when they finally capitulated 3-0.
Coach Fleming will be hoping to ally his well-documented defensive approach to a bit more consistent attacking output when the team arrives in Mexico. With outstanding goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau and striker Keven Aleman leading the side, he will have no short amount of panache to count on when finals time rolls around. “I am so happy for the players and all their families,” said the coach. “It was a good team effort the whole way and this team has some real great qualities. I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”