The 2016 CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship is set to kick off in Grenada on Thursday where eight teams will vie for three tickets to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 later this year. While the region has traditionally boasted some of the best senior squads in women's football, most notably reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup™ champions USA, the U-17 level has been a struggle for sides from the New World.
In fact, no CONCACAF team has advanced beyond the quarter-final stage of the U-17 Women’s World Cup since the Stars and Stripes claimed second in the inaugural edition of the competition at New Zealand 2008. The seven sides visiting host country Grenada for the 11-day tournament, however, are keen to set their sights on September where the top three teams will aim to improve CONCACAF’s standing among the global pecking order. FIFA.com looks ahead to all the action coming from the Caribbean.
The United States may boast the best achievement from a CONCACAF side to date at a U-17 Women’s World Cup, but it is their neighbours to the north who are the only team from the continent to have qualified for the four previous instalments of the tournament. Canada boast an experienced side, including several players who helped the Red and White qualify for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016 back in December in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Placed in the arguably easier Group A alongside Guatemala, Haiti and hosts Grenada, Canada’s path to the semi-finals and a subsequent chance to qualify directly to Jordan 2016 has coach Bev Priestman excited about his side’s prospects, not to mention the chance of reclaiming the regional title, last won by Canada in 2010.
Meanwhile, Guatemala are hoping to spring a surprise in Group A and the Chapinas have some experience of their own to rely on during the group stage. Kellyn Mayen featured for Guatemala in Women’s World Cup qualifying in 2014 as a 15-year-old, and three of her team-mates also featured in the regional tournament ahead of Costa Rica 2014.
Haiti, as the runners-up from Caribbean Football Union qualifying, should not be taken lightly, nor should hosts Grenada, who are hosting the regional finals for the first time at any age level, signifying the continued development over the years on the Spice Island.
Tough task for El Tri
*Over in Group B, reaching the semi-finals will be no easy feat for any of the four sides, including reigning champions Mexico. *El Tri must take on Caribbean champions Jamaica, Costa Rica and of course an experienced USA side. Having only missed out on the first U-17 Women’s World Cup, Mexico have established themselves as the region’s top team at this age group in recent years, but upon witnessing the draw for this tournament, coach Christopher Cuellar knows a repeat performance of 2014 will be a difficult task.
“We know that it is a strong group,” Cuellar said. “The team is ready. We are going to work to the fullest in order to achieve our goal of qualifying for the World Cup.”
Standing in the way of El Tri’s title defence would be USA, another team that could potentially lay claim to tournament favouritism. The Stars and Stripes will turn to forward Ashley Sanchez for offensive firepower in Grenada. The California native carries invaluable experience with her; Sanchez scored three goals and notched five assists for USA during Papua New Guinea 2016 qualification, including the game winner in the final against Canada.
Las Ticas and the *Reggae Girlz *will be no pushovers either, both sides qualified for the final competition with relative ease and have enough pace and ability to catch Mexico and USA off guard if they are not careful.
The top two teams will advance from each group, setting up significant semi-final showdowns where the winners will directly qualify for Jordan 2016, while the third-place match will determine CONCACAF’s final representative at the global finals.