Canada lead CONCACAF charge

Canada emerged as surprise winners from the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s championship in Costa Rica last week, edging Mexico to the crown with a 1-0 win in the final. While both finalists qualify for the 2010 FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago later this year, the big shock of the event was the elimination of USA, female superpowers in the region and runners-up at the inaugural U-17 world finals in New Zealand two years ago.

The young Canucks began the run to their first U-17 women’s crown on 11 March against Jamaica, earning a simple enough 4-1 win that they followed with a tenser-than-expected 2-1 victory over Panama two days later. Their progress was halted in their final Group A match, however, and a 1-0 loss to Mexico seemed to have knocked the girls from the Great White North off their stride. However, they rebounded admirably in their next match, against Group B winners USA, winning out 5-3 in a penalty shootout after holding their fierce southern rivals 0-0 through 120 minutes of intensely-disputed football.

To come out as CONCACAF champions, winning a gold medal through all the adversity…we definitely took the hard road. It showed a lot of character from our Canadian girls.
Canada coach Bryan Rosenfeld

Their place in the final, alongside Mexico – who topped their section handily with three wins from three, without conceding a goal, and dispatched Costa Rica 3-1 after extra time in their last-four contest – was enough for the Canadian ladies to book their place in Trinidad and Tobago later this year. However, the Canucks, having had a taste of glory in knocking out the USA, were hungry for more. Kinley McNicoll’s goal in the eighth minute was enough for a 1-0 win over the Mexicans and a first-ever crown at this age level, an even greater achievement considering the Canucks were forced to play the last half-hour of the final with just ten players. “We are ecstatic,” said Canadian coach Bryan Rosenfeld. “To come out as CONCACAF champions, winning a gold medal through all the adversity… we definitely took the hard road. It showed a lot of character from our girls.”

While they prospered from a coherent team ethic, the Canadians did have a handful of outstanding players in their ranks. Nour Ghoneim led the scoring with two in the competition, and Diamond Simpson and goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo played their part as well. From a statistical perspective, though, it was USA – crushed to see their dreams of a place on the world stage disappear after their semi-final loss – who made the biggest mark. With three straight wins in their section and a 6-0 victory in their third-place match against the Costa Ricans, they went out of the competition having scored no less than 38 goals and conceded none.

“It was good to end with a win. We know we didn’t have a good game against Canada, but we followed it up with a good result and made a statement about our how team and our players,” said outstanding American defender Abby Dahlkemper. “It shows a lot of character that we kept a shutout throughout the entire tournament, but we just didn’t do enough against Canada, and in soccer, the best team doesn’t always win.”

Canada and Mexico – who will be playing in their first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in T&T – will now join the hosts in representing the CONCACAF zone. They join up with Asian combatants Japan, Korea Republic and title-holders Korea DPR, who qualified back in November of last year. Brazil, Chile and Venezuela will be the representatives from South America, while the participants from Europe, Oceania and Africa have yet to be determined. The world finals in Trinidad and Tobago will be only the second FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup to be contested and will run from 5 to 25 September.