Vinotinto girls come of age

Football never ceases to spring surprises, especially in to the women’s youth game. And this was proven yet again after a wild weekend in South America where the CONMEBOL U-17 Women’s Championship has just come to a conclusion.

Held in Paraguay, the continental finals saw Venezuela, Paraguay and Colombia unexpectedly seal places at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, which takes place on 15 March-5 April next year.

The shocks came thick and fast in the group phase, with both Argentina and Brazil falling by the wayside. Though La Albiceleste are not recognised as one of the strongest nations in women’s youth football, few predicted the demise of the Brazilians, whose early elimination dashed their hopes of winning a third consecutive regional title and also ended the nation’s record of never having failed to reach the world finals in any age group.

In the absence of the continent’s traditional footballing heavyweights, hosts Paraguay emerged as tournament favourites after winning all their games in Group A and qualifying alongside Chile, with Bolivia, Argentina and Peru all going out. Over in Group B, meanwhile, Venezuela dropped just two points to Uruguay in topping the section from Colombia, which left Brazil, Ecuador and La Celeste out of contention.

Dark horses win through
Playing a dynamic, attack-minded game, Venezuela won all three of their matches in the final four-team phase, scoring 24 goals in the competition as a whole. Not surprisingly, their star striker Gabriela Garcia took the tournament scoring honours with eight goals in total.

Pointing to the boost their triumph will give the women’s game in Venezuela, the teenage sharpshooter said: “We’ll be able to achieve a lot more success if women’s football starts getting the support it needs.”

“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. It’s a dream come true,” added Garcia’s team-mate Deyna Castellanos, while La Vinotinto’s Panamanian coach Kenneth Zseremeta, who guided Venezuela to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010, had nothing but praise for his players: “They’re heroines,” he said. 

Coached by Julio Carlos Gomez, Paraguay conceded just a solitary goal in the group phase but finished third to Colombia on goal difference in the final round after losing 7-1 to the rampant Venezuelans in their last game. The Paraguayans nevertheless went into that match knowing that they had already sealed their second world-finals appearance, the first having come at the inaugural U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.

Brushing off that defeat and taking satisfaction from having raised the profile of the sport in Paraguay, Gomez said: “The team worked well and we’re very proud and happy at what they’ve done. They’ve shown that if they work hard, they can achieve their objectives.”

South America’s other representatives in Costa Rica will be Colombia, who extended the excellent run the country has been enjoying in women’s football, which began when they won the very first continental championship at this age level back in 2008.

The Colombians boasted the tightest defence in the competition along with Venezuela, conceding just seven goals, and will be appearing in their third U-17 women’s world finals, having missed out on Trinidad and Tobago 2010 only. They did leave it late, however, clinching their berth only after winning their final match against Chile, who had to console themselves with the Fair Play award.