USA crowned as trio reach Japan
© AFP

USA again displayed their regional dominance as they claimed a second consecutive CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship at the weekend in Panama City. Two-time world champions USA rallied from a goal down to defeat Canada 2-1 in a thrilling final on Sunday, however, both sides had already won through to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 with victories at the semi-final stage. Joining the tournament’s top-two finishers in Japan will be Mexico, who grabbed the final ticket on offer with a third-place finish over Panama.

FIFA.com covers all these details and more as it rounds up the CONCACAF qualifying action in Panama City between 1 March and 11 March.

USA reign supreme
After a first-ever quarter-final exit at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup two years ago in Germany, USA will be pleased to have kicked off their year in winning fashion. The Americans racked up an impressive 24 goals throughout the qualifying tournament, defeating all three of their group phase opponents in Guatemala, Cuba, and hosts Panama 6-0, before going on to book a place at Japan 2012 with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Mexico in the semi-finals.

Forward Maya Hayes, who scored a team-high five goals, spearheaded an incredible attacking display from the Stars and Stripes throughout, which saw a total of 11 players hit the back of the net. USA eased through to their final showdown against Canada on the back of goals from the 17-year-old Hayes, alongside Lindsey Horan.

In spite of that, the Americans had looked headed for their first slip up at the tournament when Canada snatched an early lead through Jenna Richardson in the final. USA quickly laid siege to the Canadian defence, though, and their pressure finally told as Hayes equalised 11 minutes from time before Chioma Ubogabu completed a late victory.

“Credit Canada, they’re a tough team to break down and I thought they played very hard," said USA coach Steve Swanson. "But full marks to our players. They really came back and showed a lot of determination and heart and hung in there. It was a good tournament for us. We learned a lot and were tested, and are looking forward to the next phase which is getting ready for the World Cup.”

We learned a lot and were tested, and are looking forward to the next phase which is getting ready for the World Cup.
Steve Swanson, USA coach

Canadian revival
While the United States have now booked a place at every edition of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup to date, northern neighbours Canada will happily be making their return to the global showpiece having crashed out of contention last time around. After a crushing loss to Costa Rica in qualifying for Germany 2010, Canada made sure of their intentions in the semi-final against Panama to claim their place in Japan. Christabel Oduro proved the star for Canada, scoring twice and helping set-up three other goals on the way to a convincing 6-0 victory over the hosts.

Canada coach Andrew Olivieri was delighted with the victory and the opportunity to battle USA in the final. “We are really happy,” Olivieri said. “That is what we came here for - to get ourselves there (the final) so we can expose our players to the high-pressure environments we want them to be in.”

And while the Canadians will be disappointed to have eventually finished second to the USA, their passage through to Japan 2012 will serve as relief enough after they narrowly navigated a tricky final group match against Mexico to cross over into the semi-finals as group winners.

Mexico grab last spot
Both Canada and Mexico had eased their way past Jamaica and Haiti in Group A, which set up an enticing last group match to determine which side would top the pool. Canada scraped past Mexico 1-0 to arrange a semi-final encounter against Panama and hand their opponents a tough test against USA. The Mexicans may have lost 4-0 to the Americans at the semi-final stage, but even so, they made sure of their place at Japan 2012 with a comprehensive 5-0 win over Panama in the third-place match.

Yamile Franco and Natalia Gomez-Junco both scored twice, while Tanya Samarzich also netted as Las Tricolores’ experience shined through against a Panamanian side that were making their first appearance in the knockout round of CONCACAF qualifying. En route to booking their fourth straight trip to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, Mexican forward Gomez-Junco made clear her attacking prowess by recording a tournament-high six goals.

For now, Mexico will be satisfied to be joining USA and Canada in qualifying, but they will be hungry to better their rivals in Japan as all three seek further glory on the world stage.