- USA prepare for final Group A match versus Colombia on Thursday
- U-17s looking to make USA fans smile after senior team miss out on Russia 2018
- Hackworth: "It’s just been such a special group"
As USA's players woke up in Navi Mumbai to prepare for Thursday’s final Group A match versus Colombia at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the news from home would have made for unpleasant reading.
In a stunning final round of CONCACAF Zone preliminaries for next year’s FIFA World Cup™, the senior Stars and Stripes’ defeat in Trinidad and Tobago, coupled with home wins by Honduras and Panama, left them facing up to a first qualifying failure in 32 years.
Yet, as the North American nation was coming to terms with the reality of the senior team’s elimination, this group of American youngsters remain focused on providing USA fans with plenty of hope for the future by progressing at India 2017. So far, the campaign has gone according to plan after group wins over tournament hosts India and Ghana in New Delhi. With a Round of 16 spot already assured, they now aim to secure top spot in their group by getting a result against the Colombians.
“That was our plan coming in,” USA coach John Hackworth told FIFA.com. “We’ve prepared to win all three [group] games here. We know Colombia is going to be an excellent opponent and it won’t be easy, but at the same time, that’s what we’re here to do. We’ll do the same exact process as we did against India, get ready for Colombia, and see how it goes.”
Hackworth’s team is full of promising talent, with players that will likely be handed the responsibility of leading their country’s senior team in the not-too-distant future. One of those promising talents is striker Ayo Akinola, who came off the substitute’s bench to score USA’s winner against Ghana on Monday.
The 17-year-old underlined the team spirit that this USA side has by praising his team-mates for helping him open his goalscoring account in India. “I don’t think it was my goal, I think it was the team’s goal because it was all a collective effort,” Akinola said. “It was a great transition moment from us winning it in defence to attacking, so I think it was just a group effort than just my personal goal.”
If you speak to any member of the USA squad, their intention is very clear – lift the U-17 World Cup trophy in Kolkata on Saturday 28 October and create history.
While there remains plenty of football to be played in the competition, the time that Hackworth has already enjoyed with this current squad has been memorable.
“This team, in particular, has been one of those teams that you just never want to let go,” Hackworth said. “We’ve tried to talk about the fact that we potentially play seven games here and every one of these moments is huge for us because it’s just been such a special group. I’m going to miss them a lot at the end of this [tournament].”
And while USA fans lament that there will be no World Cup party for them in Russia next year, they will hope this U-17 team becomes a “special group” after all.