Group A consists of Costa Rica (hosting a U-17 final round competition for the first time), Cuba, El Salvador and the USA. From 12-16 April the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero in Heredia will be the stage on which the four sides battle it out for one guaranteed berth at Peru 2005. Group B, which runs from 17-21 May at the Estadio Carlos Gonzalez y Gonzalez in Culiacán, Mexico, will see Canada, Haiti, Honduras and the hosts try their luck en route to global glory.
The winner of both groups (A and B) will qualify directly for the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship which runs in Peru from 15 September - 2 October. The runners-up will then meet in a home-and-away play-off series to decide the third participant from North, Central America and the Caribbean to join the two top dogs and take part in the global showcase.
Young Americans look to keep it up
The Americans have a proud record at the U-17 level and will be heavy favourites to take top spot in Group A. They are coached by John Hackworth, who took over the junior reins when John Ellinger hit out for professional shores and the head coach's job at new MLS side Real Salt Lake. The new boss will have a proud tradition to uphold. The U.S. are the only side in CONCACAF (or anywhere else) to have qualified for every instalment of the FIFA U-17 World Championship since the first in 1985. Hoping to qualify for their 11th consecutive World Championship, the young Americans can take heart in an impressive 13-game unbeaten streak at the junior level against CONCACAF competition.
Costa Rica, though, will be no pushovers. With the nation's star rising at all levels, the hosts can take heart in powerful local support as well as the knowledge that they are the most successful Central American nation at junior level, having qualified for five global competitions since their first in 1985. With most of the players coming from club giants Saprissa and Alajuelense's youth systems, coach Geovanny Alfaro Hernández's could be set to spring a big surprise.
Though capable, Cuba and El Salvador are considered group outsiders. A few past impressive performances aside, they will have their work cut out as they try to topple the big two of Costa Rica and USA. Raul Cocherari's El Salvador beat out Guatemala and Nicaragua to reach the final round, while Cuban boss Manuel Rodríguez's youngsters had to play a score of qualifying matches to reach Costa Rican shores.
Group B action in Mexico kicks off on the 17th of May.
Heredia, COSTA RICA; Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero
12.04.2005: EL SALVADOR v. USA; COSTA RICA v. CUBA
14.04.2005: USA v. CUBA; COSTA RICA v. EL SALVADOR
16.04.2005: CUBA v. EL SALVADOR; COSTA RICA v. USA