Canada's pedigree in women's football is such that their presence at major tournaments has come to be taken for granted. After all, since 2001, the North Americans have qualified for eight out of a possible nine FIFA women's competitions, including the last two FIFA Women's World Cups.

At youth level, the success of Canada's grassroots programme can best be measured by the fact they have qualified for all four FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups to date, finishing runners-up in the tournament's inaugural edition. The U-17 team have a hard act to follow, therefore, and as a consequence there was widespread shock in the CONCACAF region when Bryan Rosenfeld's side fell to unfancied Costa Rica in the semi-finals of the confederation's preliminary competition for New Zealand 2008.

Indeed, qualification was only secured when the Canucks prevailed in a tense, winner-takes-all third-place match with Mexico, winning 1-0 to seal the final CONCACAF berth at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

Canada coasted through the group stage at the CONCACAF Women's U-17 Championship with an unblemished record showing three wins from three. The tone was set by a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Puerto Rico on 17 July in which Rachel Lamarre, Sheline Zadorsky and Annick Maltais were all on target, and Zadorsky was among the goals once again when the Canucks faced Jamaica two days later.

This, however, was a considerably tighter match, and one that the North Americans ultimately edged only by the odd goal in seven, with Tiffany Cameron grabbing a double and Amy Harrison also opening her account. Harrison's 84th-minute clincher nonetheless sealed their place in the semi-finals with a game to spare, and Canada went on to claim top spot with a surprisingly straightforward 4-1 victory over Mexico, the highlight of which was another brace from the impressive Cameron.

Sealing top spot ensured that Canada avoided a ‘derby' against tournament favourites USA in the last four, yet despite being expected to beat the supposedly inferior Costa Ricans, they slipped to a shock 2-0 loss that left their New Zealand 2008 ambitions hanging by a thread. A rematch with Mexico lay in wait in the third-place play-off, and while the stakes were considerably higher on this occasion, Rosenfeld was grateful that the outcome was the same, with Cameron's solitary 32nd-minute strike seizing victory and the final CONCACAF berth to New Zealand 2008.

The coach
As a player, Bryan Rosenfeld was so notoriously driven and serious about his football that he earned the menacing moniker ‘Death'. A goalkeeper of some repute, he represented Canada at the FIFA World Youth Championship Soviet Union 1985 and went on to be capped for the senior side at the age of 22, also turning out for Hamilton Steelers, Toronto Blizzard and Toronto Rocket at club level. In 2002, at the age of 37, Rosenfeld took charge of Canada's junior women's team, also serving as assistant coach at that year's senior CONCACAF Gold Cup. Now the Ontario native, who will be 43 by the time New Zealand 2008 rolls around, has the challenge of leading Canada's U-17 women into the latter stages of their first-ever FIFA finals.

Players to watch
Tiffany Cameron, who will celebrate her 17th birthday 13 days before Canada's first match at New Zealand 2008, was her country's top scorer at the CONCACAF Women's U-17 Championship with five goals in as many games - including the qualification-sealing strike against Mexico. The striker, who also managed a memorable hat-trick in a 4-1 win over USA last November, plays her club football for Erin Mills Soccer Club and is expected to be the Canucks' principle goal threat in New Zealand.

What they said...

"I don't want players who want to play for Canada. I want players who want to win the World Cup. I want players who want to be extraordinary," Canada coach Bryan Rosenfeld.