Coaches weigh in on enticing draw

The group-stage draw for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 took place on 17 December at the Antigua Aduana in San Jose, as the final countdown to the showpiece event began in earnest.

Costa Rican model Leonora Jimenez had the honour of presenting yesterday’s ceremony, which featured a host of artistic displays, including mascaradas (giant masked figures), typical Costa Rican music and dancing, and a series of dances inspired by the country’s natural wonders.

The president of the Local Organising Committee and Costa Rican Football Federation, Eduardo Li, welcomed all the visiting delegations and members of the public, before recapping the great work done in terms of organisational planning.

After that, the President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, paid tribute to the remarkable enthusiasm and commitment of everyone involved in preparing to host this World Cup. She also had a few words for the qualified teams, encouraging them to strive hard in their battle to claim the coveted trophy.

Current Tico international Yeltsin Tejeda, former player Mauricio Montero, singer Tamela Hedstrom, and Marianela Valverde, one of the pioneers of Costa Rican women’s football, were on hand to help Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s Head of Women’s Competitions, by drawing the balls from the pots.

The Draw was as follows:

Group A: Costa Rica, Venezuela, Italy, Zambia Group B:Ghana, Korea DPR, Germany, Canada Group C:New Zealand, Paraguay, Spain, Japan Group D:Mexico, Colombia, China PR, Nigeria

Reactions came thick and fast once the teams’ respective fates were known. Most agreed that Group B was the toughest, containing as it does a North Korean side that reached at least the semi-finals in the three previous editions, the European champions as well as powerhouses Ghana and Canada.

An even group Costa Rica coach Juan Diego Quesada had this to say about his side’s section: “On paper it looks like a group we could emerge from, but we’ll need to treat every game as if it’s our last. Our priority is still to make it past the first round, and this squad is equipped to do that.”

The coach of the their opening opponents, Venezuela’s Kenneth Zseremeta, nevertheless sounded a note of warning for the hosts, saying: “It will be tough for your girls playing in front of so many people in their opening game.”

His Zambian counterpart, Albert Kachinga, was also of the opinion that it was an evenly balanced section: “It’s a good group and any of the four teams could progress to the next round. It’s set to be a very interesting tournament for us.”

Meanwhile, Italy coach Enrico Sbardella, whose side will be appearing at their maiden U-17 World Cup, said he was looking forward to a great atmosphere in the their match against the hosts. “Curiously, we were drawn against hosts England in the European qualifying event, and now we’re in with Costa Rica here. We’ve ended up in a good group and it should be a wonderful spectacle.”

As for CONCACAF champions Mexico, morale is understandably high at present, as coach Leonardo Cuellar confirmed. “The team are going through a good spell right now. We managed to qualify without being favourites, which makes us optimistic of progressing in this tournament. The local organisers have done a great job, and hopefully the young players taking part can make the most of it.”

For his part, Spain coach Jorge Vilda, had this to say about his opponents: "For us Japan will always be strong contenders. Asian football is going from strength to strength. We beat New Zealand at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, although they were good tactically, and I’m sure Paraguay will fight to the end in every game.”

For now though, it is all about maintaining focus and continuing with their preparations, as in barely three months the 16 sides will be battling it out for the world title. The tournament will be played across four stadiums in San Jose, Alajuela, Liberia and Tibas between 15 March and 4 April 2014.