Venezuela dazzled from start to finish at the South American U-17 Women's Championship on home turf to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 in fine style.
Their fans gave the best recognition of their achievements, and the 45,321 spectators that filled the Estadio Metropolitano de Lara on the final day to witness their players' triumph set a new attendance record for the continental competition.
Brazil and Paraguay, who finished second and third respectively, earned the two remaining berths at Jordan 2016 that were on offer at the tournament. That means two of South America's three participants at the previous edition two years ago in Costa Rica will feature again this time. Brazil were absent from the last U-17 Women's World Cup but return to the global stage in place of Colombia, who failed to make the cut after finishing fourth in regional qualifying.
FIFA.com rounds up the events of the tournament, which took place between 1 and 20 March.
Venezuela started out as favourites to win, and not only because they had home advantage. They went into the contest with the backbone of the squad that made history two years ago by winning their first South American title at this level, as well as finishing fourth at the U-17 Women's World Cup and winning the silver medal at the Youth Olympic Football Tournament.
And coach Kenneth Zseremeta's side certainly lived up to expectations once again. Venezuela were the only team to win all seven matches played, they had the most prolific attack with 27 goals and the meanest defence with only three conceded. Furthermore, not only did La Vinotinto average 3.8 goals per game, they kept five clean sheets. Only Paraguay, who had the second-best strike force (17 goals), were able to get past goalkeeper Nayluisa Caceres, but even then Venezuela won both matches, triumphing 2-1 in Group A and 6-2 in the final group stage.
Venezuela striker and team captain Deyna Castellanos set a new tournament record by finishing as top scorer with 12 goals. The forward, who also topped the scoring charts at Costa Rica 2014 and at the Olympics in Nanjing, found the target in every match, including two hat-tricks and the winner against Brazil to hand her country the championship for a second time. Additionally, winger Daniuska Rodriguez provided more assists than any other player (nine).
"We need to keep working in order to go far," said Zseremeta. "Women's football has grown in the region and this will go down in history. With all due respect to the big teams in Asia and the CONCACAF zone, we also want to win a World Cup."
The other qualifiers
Brazil coach Luiz Antonio Ribeiro's charges appeared to be unaffected by their compatriots' slip-up two years ago and comfortably achieved their objective of returning to the world stage in what will be their fourth appearance in five editions. La Canarinha set themselves on the way by winning Group B after taking ten of the 12 points available, only drawing 0-0 with Colombia, who also progressed to the final phase.
There, Brazil booked their ticket to Jordan with a game to spare, spearheaded by the razor-sharp Nycole Silva and underpinned by the tournament's second-best defence, which only conceded five goals. They lost for the first time to Venezuela in the final game of the competition. "We need to keep working hard ahead of the World Cup, correct our mistakes and go there with a competitive team," said captain Isabella Fernandes.
Paraguay were able to count on three players who achieved success in qualifying for the U-17 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica as South American runners-up in 2014. Coach Nelson Basualdo's team may not have shone as brightly as their predecessors, but they showed character at important moments.
They recorded three key victories in the first phase and only suffered one defeat to Venezuela to finish second in Group A. After losing their first two assignments in the four-team final stage, Paraguay beat Colombia 2-1 in a match to determine the final U-17 Women's World Cup participant.
Striker Jessica Martinez stood out for La Albirroja and finished second in the scorers' chart once again, this time with ten goals. Indeed Paraguay's attack was their most important asset. "The team improved as they went along and we feel they deservedly achieved their aim," said Basualdo after Paraguay secured their second successive appearance - and third overall - at the U-17 Women's World Cup.