Under-17 Women’s World Cup: How the Teams Qualified and Quick Thoughts Ahead of the Draw

On Friday, July 6th the draw for the Under-17 Women’s World Cup (U-17 WWC) will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, at 10:00 am EDT (19:00 local time). (FIFA.com) Once the draw is complete, the sixteen teams that qualified for the tournament, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will learn their opening round group opponents.

The bulk of this post reviews how the sixteen teams qualified, with scorelines for all official matches, along with the results of international friendlies, which are useful for cross-confederation comparisons. In addition, there are sections with thoughts on the possible pots and other notes.

No details of any live coverage of the draw have been announced. If the draw is streamed live, then that will probably be via affatv.az. In any case, a news item should be posted on FIFA.com within an hour after the draw has concluded.

This year’s U-17 WWC runs from Saturday, September 22nd to Saturday, October 13th.

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HOW THEY QUALIFIED

HOST

Although Azerbaijan  automatically qualified for the tournament as host nation, they did participate in the current cycle’s qualifying tournament for their confederation, UEFA. Azerbaijan was last in their opening round group of four teams, which they hosted in September-October 2011, and was thus eliminated. In that group, they lost 0:3 to Ukraine, 0:7 to reigning continental champions Spain, and 1:2 to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Official video highlights of some of their matches are available at affavideo.az.

Known Friendlies: In April 2012, Azerbaijan lost 1:3 to Turkey and had a scoreless draw with Slovakia. A month earlier, they defeated Moldova twice, 4:0 and 2:1. Prior to the UEFA qualifying tournament, in Summer 2011, Azerbaijan drew 1:1 with Belarus, defeated Georgia twice, 7:0 and 4:0, won 2:1 over Moldova and then drew 1:1 in a rematch. (SportStats.com, a betting odds site) Azerbaijan will also play Bulgaria on July 10th and the 12th (www.affa.az).

AFRICA (CAF)

CAF did not hold any central one-venue qualifying tournament, so current head-to-head comparisons are next to impossible. Adding to the challenge of evaluating the quality of the teams is the lack of official and unofficial news coverage for the qualifying tournament.

To qualify for the U-17 WWC, each of the three teams only had to win two home-and-away series. Match results are summarized at CAFOnline.com and FIFA.com has a write-up with some details on individual matches.

Traditional African powerhouse Nigeria had the most convincing record in qualifying, first defeating Kenya 5:0 on aggregate (3:0, 2:0) and then defeating Zambia 7:1 over two matches (2:1, 5:0). Nigeria has also qualified for both previous U-17 WWCs.

This is also the third appearance for Ghana in a U-17 WWC. They had a more difficult qualification path, as they had to face South Africa in the second phase, which Ghana won 5:1 on aggregate after a scoreless draw in the first leg. In the opening phase, Ghana vanquished Cameroon 4:0 and 1:0 for a 5:0 aggregate win.

Debutante Gambia had the most eventful journey of the three teams. Having won their opening match 3:0 over Sierra Leone, the newcomers fell 1:3 in the second leg, but that was good enough for a 4:3 aggregate win. After that phase, Gambia, in a mild upset, defeated Tunisia 3:1 on aggregate via a 1:0 home win and a tight 2:1 away victory.

ASIA (AFC)

The AFC’s qualification tournament wrapped up last November in China. The final phase was a six-team round-robin with five of the teams getting byes to that phase, including all three of the teams that eventually qualified. The surprise of that tournament was South Korea, the reigning U-17 World Champions, failing to qualify as they finished fourth, one spot out of the qualification zone. (Basic box scores for all the matches are available at www.the-afc.com.)

Japan, who lost the 2010 U-17 WWC on penalties to South Korea, won all five of their qualifying matches, scoring 18 goals and allowing none. They opened with a 1:0 victory over North Korea, followed by a 10:0 crushing of Thailand, 3:0 wins against China and South Korea, which sealed them a spot in Azerbaijan and the Asian championship trophy. The team capped off the tournament with a 1:0 decision over Australia.

Known Friendlies: Since qualifying, Japan’s only international friendly was a 3:2 win over China in China. The other matches have been against club and school teams. Prior to qualifying, in August 2011, Japan traveled to California where they played the USA and Canada each twice, in overlapping series. First, Japan drew 2:2 with the USA, then Japan defeated Canada 2:1, then won 2:1 over the USA, and ended the trip with a 1:1 draw of Canada. (JFA, in Japanese)

Inaugural U-17 WWC Champions North Korea only conceded one goal in qualifying, which was also in their only loss, the opening match against eventual champions, Japan. After that 1:0 loss, North Korea finished with four straight wins: 4:0 against South Korea, 1:0 versus both Australia and China, and an 8:0 thumping of Thailand.

Asia will also have one debutante in the tournament, after China survived a tense final match versus South Korea, which ended in a scoreless draw. Those two teams finished level on points, but China advanced due to their superior goal difference (7 versus 0). In its other matches, China won two and lost two, defeating Thailand 8:0 and Australia 3:0, while losing 0:3 to Japan and 0:1 to North Korea.

Known Friendly: In April 2012, China hosted Japan and lost 2:3. (see JFA link above)

EUROPE (UEFA)

UEFA was the last confederation to wrap up qualifying, with the final phase of their long qualifying tournament being held just two weeks before the draw ceremony. The final four teams Germany, Denmark, France, and Switzerland faced off in a pair of semifinals, with only the winners qualifying for the U-17 WWC. (UEFA.com micro-site for the tournament.)

Returning for a third time is Germany, who won this cycle’s qualifying tournament 4:3 on penalties after coming back to draw 1:1 with the other qualified team, France. Germany got a bye to the second phase of the tournament, a four team round-robin, which featured the current European cup-holders, Spain. Only the top team would advance to the final stage, so Germany needed to come out on top, which they did, winning all three matches: 2:0 against the Czech Republic, 4:0 over Serbia, and 3:0 versus Spain in the group-decider. After that, Germany only needed to defeat Denmark to qualify, which was accomplished via two goals in the last ten minutes of the 80-minute match. Germany’s leading scorer was Sara Däbritz, who had 5 goals over 5 matches.

Known Friendlies: In February 2012, Germany played the USA twice in Florida, losing both times, 0:2 and 0:1. In December 2011, Germany played Israel’s U-19 WNT, easily winning 6:0 in the first match and then 2:0 in the second. And, in October 2011, Germany played a pair of matches the Netherlands, winning the first 2:1, but drawing the second 1:1.

France, who were in the USA’s group during the first U-17 WWC, is back, having survived the first two qualifications rounds and a scare in their semifinal against Switzerland. France rolled through their opening round-robin group, crushing the Faroe Islands 10:0, vanquishing Moldova 8:1, and soundly beating Wales 5:0. In the second phase, France won its group with the maximum of points, posting a trio of 4:0 wins against the Republic of Ireland, Poland, and Norway. France’s cruising through qualification hit a roadblock in the semifinal, when Switzerland scored first, but the French immediately equalized and then delivered  four more unanswered goals to seal a ticket to Azerbaijan. Over the qualifying campaign, three players had a team-high 7 goals: the team’s captain and playmaking mid Sandie Toletti, plus forwards Léa Declercq and Kadidiatou Diani. Right behind them was midfielder Laura Blanchard with 6 goals.

Known Friendlies: In February/March 2012, France had a pair of friendlies with Switzerland, winning the first 1:0, but drawing 1:1 in the second.  In September 2011, France played Scotland twice, winning 3:0 and 2:0. (FFF.fr, in French)

NORTH AMERICA (CONCACAF)

In CONCACAF, all three teams that qualified had byes to the final stage of the qualification tournament, which featured eight teams in two round-robin groups of four, with the top two teams in each qualifying for the semifinals. The semifinal winners and the third-place match winner qualified for the U-17 WWC.  (Tournament micro-site on CONCACAF.com.)

The United States, runners up in the inaugural tournament, return to the U-17 WWC after failing to qualify in 2010 due to a penalty kick shootout loss to Canada in the semifinals of the qualification tournament. This time around, the USA made their qualification look fairly easy with a cruising 10:0 win over the Bahamas, a 5:0 victory against Trinidad & Tobago, which featured a very tight first half, a 3:0 win against Mexico to win the group, and rolling over Panama 7:0 in the semifinal. The final against Canada was a different story, but the USA scored a single goal and held onto the lead against an unrelenting Canadian offense that, at times in the second half, sent the USA’s defense into panic mode. The USA was led offensively by Summer Green, who scored 12 goals, including 5 versus the Bahamas.

Known Friendlies: In March 2012, the USA played France’s U-19 WNT, winning 2:0; England’s U-19 WNT, drawing 1:1 (but losing a penalty shootout); and the Netherlands U-19 WNT, winning 2:0. In February 2012, the USA hosted Germany for two in-camp friendlies, winning both, 2:0 and 1:0. Going back farther, the USA hosted Japan in August 2011, drawing the first match 2:2 and losing the second 2:1. (U.S. Soccer)

The USA’s northern neighbors, Canada, back for its third U-17 WWC, had a less difficult round-robin group as they were the only “Big Three” team in that group. In its opening match, Canada defeated Panama 6:0, then won 3:0 over Jamaica, and 6:1 over host Guatemala. As winner of that group, Canada faced the second-place team from the USA’s group, Mexico. Canada only managed to score one goal, but it was enough to secure a victory and qualification. In the championship final, Canada lost 0:1 to the USA, but had several chances, especially in the second half to equalize.

Known Friendlies: In February 2012, Canada had a scoreless 60-minute scrimmage with Germany in Florida, prior to the European’s friendlies with the USA. In December 2011, Canada faced Mexico twice, winning both times, 2:0 and 1:0. Also, Canada played Trinidad & Tobago (DNQ) two times, winning by twin 3:0 scorelines. (Post from April 2012)

Mexico, who had only qualified for the previous U-17 WWC in 2010, was forced to qualify via the third-place match after finishing second in its group, behind the USA, and losing its semifinal 0:1 to Canada. The repechage match was a close affair for the first half, with Mexico only leading 1:0 due to a 13th minute goal, but the USA’s southern neighbors would go on to score five more goals to seal their passage to Azerbaijan.

Known Friendlies: In December 2011, Mexico hosted Canada and lost twice, via 0:2 and 0:1 scorelines. (See link under Canada)

OCEANIA (OFC)

Oceania’s qualifcation tournament had only one phase, a four team round-robin, with only the top team qualifying for the U-17 WWC. New Zealand, the lone big fish left on the women’s side after Australia transferred to the Asian confederation, handily defeated its three opponents by a combined 29:1 scoreline. New Zealand opened with a 7:0 win over the Cook Islands, a 13:1 victory over New Caledonia and a 9:0 thumping over Papua New Guinea in the tournament decider. (OFC webpage for the tournament.)

Known Friendlies: In February 2012, New Zealand traveled to Argentina, defeating the hosts twice, 1:0 and 2:0. (NZFootball.co.nz). Argentina finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying.

SOUTH AMERICA (CONMEBOL)

All ten nations in CONMEBOL were represented in the qualification tournament, which featured two round-robin groups of five in the first phase, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the second phase, a round-robin group of four, which immediately followed the first phase. CONMEBOL’s tournament was the most grueling of the confederations, as the top four teams had to play a total of 7 matches over 17 days. (es.Wikipedia page for the tournament, CONMEBOL write-up #1, write-up #2).

Although dominant at the senior and U-20 levels in South America, Brazil, at the U-17 level, had only won one prior Sudamericano, in 2010, after upstart Colombia claimed the inaugural crown in 2008. This year, Brazil would repeat, but not without a challenge from South America’s newest revelation, Uruguay.  In the first phase, Brazil won all four of its matches: 7:0 over Paraguay, 3:0 against Venezuela, 5:1 versus Colombia, and a 9:0 thumping of Chile. Brazil followed this up with three more victories in the final phase: 5:1 over rivals Argentina, 3:1 versus Colombia, and the 1:0 win over Uruguay. (To claim the crown, Brazil only needed a draw with Uruguay.) The leading scorers for Brazil were Byanca Araújo, who had 8 goals, followed by Brena, with 7.

Of the debutantes at this year’s U-17 WWC, Uruguay is the most dramatic Cinderella story so far. The team topped its opening phase group by winning all four matches: 7:2 over Ecuador, 2:1 against host Bolivia, 1:0 versus Argentina, and 3:2 over Peru.  Uruguay then went on to win the first two matches of the final phase — a 2:1 stoppage time win over Colombia and a 4:2 defeat of Argentina, with Yamila Badell scoring all four goals —  to qualify with a game in hand. Uruguay’s only loss was in the title decider to Brazil by the slimmest of margins, 0:1. Uruguay’s qualification campaign was made extra grueling as both phases of their tournament were played in Sucre, which is at an altitude over 9,000 feet. With Badell’s 9 total goals, she was the leading goal-scorer for the tournament

Colombia is back in the U-17 WWC after not qualifying in 2010, having punched their ticket only in the last match. They started off respectively, finishing second in their opening group, behind Brazil. In that phase, Colombia defeated Venezuela 2:1, won 3:0 over both Paraguay and Chile, but fell 1:5 to Brazil. Then, in the final phase, Colombia lost its first two matches, falling 1:2 to Uruguay on a stoppage time goal, and then losing again to Brazil, this time via just a 1:3 margin. However, even with those two losses Colombia could still qualify for the U-17 WWC. All they had to do was at least draw with Argentina, who also lost their first two matches, but had a worse goal difference. In the end, Colombia handily defeated Argentina 4:0 to claim the last spot.

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QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE POSSIBLE POTS

After the “North Korea” surprise of the U-20 WWC draw, a detailed prognostication of the pots does not seem worth it, so here are a few ways FIFA may divide up the teams.

Scenario #1: Asia Gets Two Top Seeds

  • Pot 1 (Top Seeds): Azerbaijan (host), Japan, North Korea, United States
  • Pot 2 (Second Seeds): France, Germany, China, Brazil
  • Pot 3 (Americas): Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay
  • Pot 4 (Africa/Oceania): Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, New Zealand

This scenario would give the top three non-host seeds to the only teams in the tournament who have made it to the final match of a U-17 WWC: Japan, who lost to South Korea on penalties in 2010, plus North Korea and the USA who were in the 2008 final. Also, North Korea is the only team to make the semifinals in both previous editions. Both Japan and the USA won their qualifying tournaments, while North Korea only lost narrowly to Japan (0:1, on the first match day of a round-robin tournament).

Ideally, this should produce some of the fairest groups possible, within the constraints of geographical diversity (no two teams from the same confederation can be in the same group). Such as the following “Good” Scenario:

  • Group A: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Nigeria
  • Group B: Japan, France, Uruguay, Gambia
  • Group C: North Korea, Germany, Mexico, Ghana
  • Group D: United States, China, Colombia, New Zealand

Under this “Good” Scenario, none of the three non-host groups are not overloaded with favorites (italicized above) to advance out of the group, while in host Azerbaijan’s group, Brazil gets a de facto top seed, and should win the group, with Canada and Nigeria fighting it out for the second spot.

Scenario #2: Germany Gets a Top Seed Over North Korea

  • Pot 1 (Top Seeds): Azerbaijan (host), Japan, Germany, United States
  • Pot 2 (Second Seeds): France, China, North Korea, Brazil
  • Pot 3 (Americas): Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay
  • Pot 4 (Africa/Oceania): Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, New Zealand

With Germany not getting a top seed in the U-20 WWC, giving them a seed in this tournament would probably be done as a compromise, given that Germany had struggled somewhat in their qualifying tournament (not scoring until the final ten minutes of their semifinal and only winning that tournament via penalties) and lost two friendlies earlier in the year to the United States.

Although the above “Good” Scenario is possible, these hypothetical pots are a bit more likely to produce a “Bad” resulting draw, e.g.:

  • Group A: Azerbaijan, China, Mexico, Gambia
  • Group B: Japan, France, Colombia, New Zealand
  • Group C: Germany, Brazil, Canada*, Ghana
  • Group D: United States, North Korea, Uruguay, Nigeria*

Where Azerbaijan gets one of the easiest groups possible for them, while two of the groups (C, D) are overloaded with three strong teams, including non-top teams that are more than capable of upsets, especially at this volatile age level. (Favorites to advance are italicized, teams more than capable of upsets are asterisk’ed.)

Scenario #3: Germany Gets a Top Seed, No Second Seeds Pot

Similarly to Scenario #2, Germany is placed in the first pot, but instead of having a pot with secondary top teams, the rest of the pots are populated without much regard for the quality of the teams.

  • Pot 1 (Top Seeds): Azerbaijan (host), Japan, Germany, United States
  • Pot 2 (South America+): France, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay
  • Pot 3 (North America / Asia): Canada, Mexico, China, North Korea
  • Pot 4 (Africa/Oceania): Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, New Zealand

If FIFA goes with this scenario, then a Group of Death is certainly possible…

Group A: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Mexico, Gambia
Group B: Japan, France, Canada*, Ghana
Group C: Germany, Uruguay, China, New Zealand
Group D: United States, Brazil, North Korea, Nigeria*

In this “Are You Kidding Me?” Scenario, Azerbaijan gets a potential “Group of Life,” while the USA would end up in an overloaded group that includes two other high quality teams, Brazil and North Korea, along with Nigeria who could play the role of a spoiler. (Favorites to advance are italicized, teams more than capable of upsets are asterisk’ed.)

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RANDOM NOTE

“B” Is Bad For TV Coverage: This tournament opens on a Saturday, with Group A and Group B playing their first matches on that day, and then their final group matches on the next Saturday. Similarly, the other two groups begin play on Sunday and wrap up their group matches the following Sunday. (Schedule, PDF) If ESPN does decide to air at least the USA’s matches, then the chance of live coverage or even same-day tape delay would essentially go out the window, at least for the group stage, if the USA winds up in the first two groups, as Saturdays in September and October would be wall-to-wall college football (of the gridiron variety). Edit: Group B is not as bad as originally thought. I did not properly consider that the time zone difference, which is 9 hours for those in the Eastern USA, which is 3-4 hours more than if the tournament was held in Central Europe or Great Britain.

As Azerbaijan is already seeded into Group A, should the USA also be a top seed, then they will have a 2-in-3 chance of being in the last two groups.  But, at this point, there has been no confirmation of television coverage or even the availability of online streaming (via ESPN3.com), so the match times may be a moot point.

One thought on “Under-17 Women’s World Cup: How the Teams Qualified and Quick Thoughts Ahead of the Draw”

  1. Eurosport has committed to showing some of the tournament, at least (not sure how much during the group stages), so hopefully that would allow for viewing online someplace, though the matches will take place late at night/very early morning for USA fans (and I don’t think the matches will be archived anyplace for later viewing).

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