Group C: Spain lead the way

Two debutants and two veterans will cross swords in Group C when the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010 gets underway this weekend. In the newcomers’ corner are European U-17 champions Spain, who will be making only their second appearance at a women’s finals after reaching the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup at Thailand in 2004. Joining them there are the up-and-coming Venezuelans, whose presence is the fruit of two years’ hard work and further testimony to the impressive progress being made by football in the Carribbean state.  

In the opposite corner are Japan who, after an impressive showing in the inaugural edition in 2008, are one of the sides to watch. Last but not least come New Zealand, who also did their country proud in 2008, when as hosts they recorded their first ever win at a FIFA women’s tournament. And though their coach insists his current charges are inexperienced at this level, their diligent work in recent years and impressive qualifying campaign mean they will be hopeful of emulating their 2008 achievement.

The road to T&T
New Zealand: The Young Ferns made light work of winning the OFC U-17 Women’s Championship with comprehensive wins over Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tonga without conceding a single goal.

Venezuela: The Vinotinto girls finished runners-up in their group at February’s South American Women’s U-17 Championship to set up a semi-final meeting with Brazil. Despite then losing to the eventual champions, Venezuela bounced back with a historic 1-0 win over Paraguay in the third place play-off to secure their berth.

Spain: Las Rojitas booked their passage with a victory in the final of the 2010 UEFA Women’s U-17 Championship over the Republic of Ireland. After a scoreless 120 minutes, the Iberians held their nerve in the penalty shootout to run out 4-1 winners.

Japan: Japan lost the semi-final of the 2009 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship to eventual champions Korea Republic, before sealing their finals berth with a stunning 6-2 victory over Australia in the match for third place. The win also showcased the scoring talents of Mai Kyokawa, who underlined her credentials with four of her side’s goals.

The big match
The clash between Las Rojitas and the young Nadeshiko will start proceedings off with a bang in Group C. And as Spain coach Jorge Vilda told, it is certain to be a tough opening fixture: “The first game is always the hardest, not just because of opening-day nerves, but also because you know very little about your opponents.” The match will also feature an exciting duel between ace Japanese striker Kyokawa, who top-scored in qualifying, and Spanish No1 Dolores Gallardo, who showed her worth in the penalty shootout that earned her side the European crown.

Did you know?
Spain have a promising midfielder in their ranks by the name of Sara Merida. If the surname rings a bell, then you are probably familiar with her high-flying brother Fran. The former Arsenal midfielder currently on the books of Atletico de Madrid also tasted success at U-17 level with Spain, reaching the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007. Can his younger sister emulate that fine achievement?