Stiff tests lie in store for a pair of debutants as the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup gets under way on Friday with an enticing set of fixtures. For host nation Jordan, their first taste of the competition comes against perennial contenders Spain, while old hands Canada await a Cameroon team looking to make a strong first impression. There will be tension too as title candidates Germany and Venezuela lock horns, and no little intrigue as regular hopefuls New Zealand and Mexico meet in the other game.
After all the build-up, the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 is ready for kick-off!
Match of the day*
Venezuela-Germany, Irbid, 30 September, 15.00 (local time)*
This may be just Venezuela's third tilt at the U-17 Women's World Cup, but their second appearance in 2014 firmly established them as a force to be reckoned with. Powered by a pair of forwards who topped the goalscoring charts, La Vinotinto progressed as far as the semi-finals in Costa Rica – and adidas Golden Boot winner Deyna Castellanos will lead the line once again in Jordan. She spearheads a gifted generation of players who took silver at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics and have won the two most recent editions of the South American U-17 finals.
Titans of the women's game, Germany will not be short on confidence either, and they travel as European champions after securing their fifth continental U-17 title in May. They have yet to claim the global crown, however, and will be desperate for a winning start that would mark them down as serious contenders to go all the way. *
*The other matches
The pressure on Jordan's players is likely to be fierce as they step on to the pitch at the Amman International Stadium. Representing the home nation, they will be the first to sing the Jordanian national anthem at a FIFA women's tournament, and they could hardly have asked for a tougher introduction at this level. First up are Spain, runners-up at Costa Rica 2014 and this year's European finals, and they will be itching to spoil Jordan's party.
The other game in Group A looks to be a balanced affair on paper, with Mexico having made recent progress and winning bronze at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics to go with their quarter-final finish in Costa Rica the same year. They also graced the showpiece of the 2016 CONCACAF Women's U-17 Championship, losing narrowly to USA, and will be raring to go against a New Zealand side that prepared for this tournament by competing in their own domestic women's senior league.
Player to watch*
Lauren Raimondo (Canada)
Canada's place in Jordan hung in the balance as they squared up to Haiti in the match for third place at this year's CONCACAF finals. Having lost to their opponents during the group stage, the Canucks went into the break with the match still goalless – and promptly sent on forward Lauren Raimondo to make the difference. She responded by finding the net ten minutes after the restart before adding the fourth in a 4-2 victory. Whether or not that proves enough to earn her a starting berth against Cameroon, the African hopefuls have been warned.
The stat 3 –Spain have lost just three times in their 12 U-17 Women's World Cup outings, and on each occasion their opponents were an Asian side. That ought to give encouragement to Jordan as they aim to match Korea Republic and Korea DPR in 2010, and Japan two years ago.**
"We know that Mexico will be organised, that their squad has been together since U-15 level, which is always massively important, and that they have genuine goalscoring threats in wide areas. Defensively, they're solid and they pushed USA all the way in the CONCACAF final, so we know it will be a massive challenge for us. But it's one we're very excited about."
Gareth Turnbull, New Zealand coach
The schedule*Group A
*Mexico-New Zealand, 17.00 (International Stadium, Amman)
Jordan-Spain, 20.00 (International Stadium, Amman)
Venezuela-*Germany, 15.00 (Al Hassan International Stadium, Irbid)
Cameroon-Canada, 18.00 (Al Hassan International Stadium, Irbid)*
(all times local)*