The second Youth Olympic Games will kick off this Thursday with the girls' football tournament, when a much-vaunted Venezuela side will meet Papua New Guinea in the curtain-raiser before hosts China PR take on North American powerhouses Mexico.
Group A favourites Venezuela will aim to hit the ground running after retaining the core of the side that finished fourth at this year's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Meanwhile, Group B rivals Mexico themselves reached the quarter-finals of the U-17 showpiece but face a tough early challenge against a well-drilled host team with a point to prove.
The matches *
*Papua New Guinea *– Venezuela, Wutaishan Stadium, Thursday 14 August, 18:00 (local time)*
As the only one of this year’s teams to have played in the inaugural Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament four years ago - albeit losing all three of their games - Papua New Guinea will be hoping that their experience in Singapore will help them on the way to a historic first win. Since their team was formed in April this year, the young islanders have played three warm-up matches under head coach Margaret Aka.
However, the Oceanians’ enthusiasm and defensive mettle will face a much stiffer test against a Venezuelan team brimming with power and experience. After leading the young South Americans to a shock fourth-placed finish at the U-17 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica back in April, Vinotinto coach Kenneth Zseremeta is expecting bigger things this time round: "Our goal is to win the gold medal in the Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament," declared the Panamanian supremo, who has every right to aim high with a squad strengthened by six returnees from this year's U-17 showcase, most notably Golden Boot winner Deyna Castellanos.
*China PR – Mexico, Wutaishan Stadium, Thursday 14 August, 20:45 (local time)
*For China PR fans, the highlight of the opening matchday will be the hosts’ duel against Mexico. The young Steel Roses have been meticulously preparing under head coach Lu Yiliang and their lineup is bolstered by promising rookies in the form of skipper Zhao Yujie and fellow forward Jin Kun. But Mexico are formidable opponents as demonstrated by their crushing 4-0 victory over China PR at this year's U-17 Women's World Cup, a result that the hosts will be seeking to avenge.
Mexican coach Monica Vergara can also call on two veterans from the U-17 World Cup, including defender Kimberley Rodriguez who was in the starting eleven for that victory over the Chinese girls, and was herself assistant coach in the successful Costa Rica campaign.
The stat 8 – The number of girls competing at these finals who have already participated in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.
The player to watch
*Deyna Castellanos (VEN)
*Venezuela’s No9 was one of the outstanding performers at this year’s U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica, winning the Golden Boot with six goals and three assists.
Did you know?
At the inaugural Girls’ tournament held in Singapore in 2010, gold medal winners Chile needed a penalty shoot-out to see off final opponents Equatorial Guinea.