Road to Azerbaijan taking shape

It is now just under a year until the third FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup kicks off, with the 2012 edition set to take place in Azerbaijan. Last year in Trinidad and Tobago it was a near clean sweep by Asia as Korea Republic edged Japan in the final, with only Spain preventing Korea DPR from taking the final place on the podium. Two years earlier in the inaugural tournament in New Zealand, Korea DPR claimed the title by beating USA in the final, with Germany and England losing semi-finalists.

Next week, Asia will kick-start their push to be one of the 16 nations rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite. While Africa (CAF), South America (CONMEBOL) and Oceania (OFC) have yet to commence their respective qualifying tournaments, North, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) and Europe (UEFA) are both well advanced on the road to Azerbaijan 2012.

In CONCACAF, matches began in mid August, with Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda having the honour of commencing global proceedings. Earlier this month, Trinidad and Tobago joined the three other first-round group winners - Bahamas, Guyana and Jamaica - in advancing to the next round of qualifying. Three teams will then qualify for the eight-team CONCACAF finals next year, which will include USA, Canada and Mexico, as well as two Central America nations.

In Europe, the first qualifying round commenced in late September. Ten group winners – Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Norway, France, England, Denmark, Belgium, holders Spain and Iceland – all advanced. Joining them will be UEFA's top-ranked sides, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the four best-placed runners-up - Czech Republic, Serbia, Finland and Poland - with the 16 teams drawn into four groups of four teams. The groups are played as one-venue mini-tournaments, with the winners progressing to the continental finals. The final tournament is a knockout event staged in UEFA's home town of Nyon, Switzerland between 26 and 29 June.