North American quartet chase Chilean dream

It was little surprise to followers of football in the North American region to see Mexico take their place on top of the podium at the recently-concluded CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Honduras. El Tri’s victory in the final against the hosts saw them extend their unbeaten streak in the competition to 24 consecutive games, and they have now won six of the eight completed editions of the tournament they have participated in. As well as lifting the continental crown, a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year in Chile was secured, meaning the two-time world champions at this level will have a chance to reach a third consecutive final after their 2011 win and defeat to Nigeria in the UAE two years ago.

Joining them in Chile will be fellow finalists Honduras, as well as play-off winners Costa Rica and USA. takes a look back at what proved to be a fantastic two-week showcase of North America’s finest young footballers.

Oh, Canada Despite the seeming inevitability of Mexico’s dominance in Honduras, it could all have been so different but for a dramatic final day in Group B. The Canucks were atop the pool going into the last day of group action, thanks to three victories over Haiti, Costa Rica and Saint Lucia, and a hard-fought draw against favourites Mexico. El Tri, with an identical record to Canada, then succumbed to a Barlon Sequeira equaliser in their final group match against Costa Rica, meaning a Canada victory against already-eliminated Panama would see them through to a third consecutive U-17 World Cup. It was not to be for Les Rouges though, as Damaso Santos’s early goal was enough to see off Sean Fleming’s team and see them finish second behind Mexico, meaning a play-off against Costa Rica would follow.

There was a similarly enthralling finale to Group A, with the unbeaten USA in pole position for an automatic place in Chile on the final day of group action. They had come close to automatic qualification in the previous round of matches, but an 87th-minute equaliser by David Sanchez for hosts Honduras took the group down to the final day. Richie Williams’ team knew a win against Jamaica, who had been to the global showpiece just twice before, would see them secure an automatic ticket to Chile, but the Stars and Stripes were made to wait a little longer. Nicholas Nelson’s second-half penalty saw the Reggae Boyz to victory, and a later win for Honduras meant the hosts took their place in the final, and could begin to make arrangements for Chile.

It’s a knockout Jamaica and USA would not have to wait long for a rematch - they were paired together in the play-off, with Costa Rica and Canada facing off for the other ticket to Chile. The latter duo had played out a topsy-turvy game in the group stage, the Canucks winning 3-2, coming from 2-1 down with Kosovar Sakiki’s thunderous header ensuring victory. Sakiki was to play his part in a calamitous denouement to Canada’s tournament, as Costa Rica exacted revenge for that group defeat in the play-off. Luis Hernandez and Andy Reyes’s goals put Los Ticos into a strong position just half an hour into the match, and a Sakiki back pass ran underneath goalkeeper Luciano Trasolini’s foot and into the Canadian net in the second half to see the Costa Ricans rubberstamp a 3-0 victory, and seal an U-17 World Cup spot for the first time since 2009.

In the second play-off match, USA looked to avenge that final group-game defeat and book the final CONCACAF spot at Chile 2015. Standing in their way was a sturdy Reggae Boyz defence, ably marshalled by goalkeeper Jahmali Waite. Williams’ side peppered the Jamaica goal, with wingers Joshua Perez and Haji Wright looking dangerous. USA could not find a way through in 90 minutes, with Wright missing a gilt-edged opportunity with five minutes remaining. A goalless game meant penalties, and the shootout proved a fittingly theatrical conclusion to both teams’ tournaments. 4-4 after five penalties each, Alexis Velela converted for USA, meaning Alex Marshall needed to score for Jamaica to keep their hopes of reaching Chile alive. His effort clipped the post and went wide, with the USA players rushing past a distraught Marshall in jubilation, as the Stars and Stripes continued their impressive record of reaching every U-17 World Cup, bar UAE 2013.

The final was a more straightforward affair, Mexico running out 3-0 winners over the hosts thanks to goals from Kevin Magana, Claudio Zamudio and the impressive defender Ulises Torres, who finished the tournament with four goals.

The other 20 teams at Chile 2015 will have to do their homework based on the evidence of the talent on show in Honduras. Mexico’s sterling reputation at this level rightly precedes them, but the USA’s pacey wingers, Costa Rica’s dangerous No9 Andy Reyes (who scored five at the championship) and Honduras’s never-say-die attitude should give the watching world plenty of food for thought ahead of the global showdown in Chile.

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