Under-17 Women’s World Cup – The Draw: And, The Toughest Group Goes To… The USA

On Friday, July 6th, the draw for the 2012 Under-17 Women’s World Cup was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. For the second time this year, a United States Youth Women’s National Team got a difficult group, with the USA being drawn into Group B, along with North Korea, France, and debutante Gambia. In its only previous trip to the U-17 WWC, the USA was also grouped with France, and went on to face North Korea in the title match, falling to the Asian side via an extra time goal.  The four groups were as follows:

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

The top two teams in each group advance to the knock-out stage, with the quarterfinal match-ups being 1st-A vs. 2nd-B; 1st-B vs. 2nd-A; 1st-C vs. 2nd-D; and 1st-D vs. 2nd-C.

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The draw was not covered live via online streaming or any known live reporting, so confirmation of the actual pots is lacking. But, based on the draw results, the four pots had to be populated in the following manner, although the actual order of Pots 2-4 could have been different:

POT 1: Azerbaijan, United States, Japan, Germany
POT 2: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, France
POT 3: Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, New Zealand
POT 4: Canada, Mexico, North Korea, China
(Edit: The order of the pots has been changed, based on new photographic evidence.*)

It appears that Germany, Japan, and the United States were seeded as top teams and placed in the same pot as host Azerbaijan. (This matches Scenario #3 in the draw preview post. A fairer allocation of teams would have been to have North Korea seeded in place of Germany, as was proposed in Scenario #1.)

*Edit – This photo posted on FIFA.com shows the groups after the second pot was emptied:  Group A, Azerbaijan and Colombia; Group B, France and USA; Group C, Brazil and Japan; Group D, Uruguay and Germany. Another photo contains parts of the groups either while Pot 3 was being emptied or right afterwards. In that photo, Gambia (Group B), New Zealand (Group C), and Ghana (Group D) are now visible.

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(All times are EDT)

Group A – Another Easy “A:” The two teams who should most be counting their lucky stars are CANADA and NIGERIA, as they drew host AZERBAIJAN and avoided both the other top seeds, but also avoided the likes of North Korea, Brazil, and France. The main downside for Canada and Nigeria is that they play each other first, so if the result is a victory for one team, and the losing squad stumbles in one of its two remaining matches, then that could open the door for Azerbaijan or COLOMBIA to claim a ticket to the next round.   Favorites: Canada, Nigeria. Potential Spoiler: Azerbaijan or Colombia.

Schedule (Group A):
September 22nd, 11:00 a.m. – Azerbaijan vs. Colombia
September 22nd,  8:00 a.m. – Nigeria vs. Canada
September 25th,  8:00 a.m. – Azerbaijan vs. Nigeria
September 25th,  5:00 a.m. – Colombia vs. Canada
September 29th, 11:00 a.m. – Canada vs. Azerbaijan
September 29th, 11:00 a.m. – Colombia vs. Nigeria

Group B – Tough Luck For the USA: The UNITED STATES once again finds itself in a tough group, drawing the second-placed team out of Asia, NORTH KOREA, and the second-placed team from UEFA, FRANCE, who only missed out on the continental title via a penalty kick shootout loss against Germany. Unfortunately for these three teams, only two spots are available to the next round, so one of the teams will have an early exit. This happened to France in 2008, after a 1:1 draw against the USA in the final group match was enough for the Americans to advance. African debutante GAMBIA will likely have to settle for a certificate of participation, unless they can pull off two major upsets. The one silver lining for the top two teams in this group is that they will have easier quarterfinal match-ups, as they will play the top teams in the weakest group, Group A. Favorites: United States, North Korea. Potential Spoiler: France.

Schedule (Group B):
September 22nd,  4:00 a.m. – France vs. United States
September 22nd,  6:00 a.m. – North Korea vs. Gambia
September 25th,  5:00 a.m. – France vs. North Korea
September 25th,  8:00 a.m. – United States vs. Gambia
September 29th,  8:00 a.m. – Gambia vs. France
September 29th,  8:00 a.m. – United States vs. North Korea

Group C – Front-Loaded: BRAZIL and JAPAN, both continental champions, will feature in the most intriguing opening group match, which will likely decide the eventual group winner, should those two teams win their other group matches. This group has the biggest gulf between the strongest two squads and the remaining teams, MEXICO and NEW ZEALAND, which makes the chances of either of those teams surviving into the quarterfinals highly unlikely. Favorites: Japan, Brazil. Potential Spoiler: Mexico.

Schedule (Group C):
September 23nd,  6:00 a.m. – Mexico vs. New Zealand
September 23nd,  9:00 a.m. – Brazil vs. Japan
September 26th,  8:00 a.m. – Mexico vs. Brazil
September 26th, 11:00 a.m. – New Zealand vs. Japan
September 30th,  5:00 a.m. – Japan vs. Mexico
September 30th,  5:00 a.m. – New Zealand vs. Brazil

Group D – Déjà vu, Almost: GERMANY gets almost the same group as its U-20 WNT, except this time it is not overloaded. The European champions should be able to advance out of their without too much trouble. Their biggest challenge should come from CHINA, who may very well end up being the top team in the group. The other team in common with Group D of the U-20 WWC is GHANA, who have never advanced out of the group stage in their two prior trips to a U-17 WWC. The one change for Germany is that they are grouped with debutantes URUGUAY, rather than another team from the Americas whose name also begins with “U,” the United States. Uruguay’s Cinderella story so far parallels not the weak Disney version, but more the Czech version, as the squad seems quite capable of engineering an upset, not through magic, but via skill. Favorites: Germany, China. Potential Spoiler: Uruguay.

Schedule (Group D):
September 23nd,  6:00 a.m. – Uruguay vs. China
September 23nd,  9:00 a.m. – Ghana vs. Germany
September 26th,  8:00 a.m. – Uruguay vs. Ghana
September 26th, 11:00 a.m. – China vs. Germany
September 30th,  8:00 a.m. – Germany vs. Uruguay
September 30th,  8:00 a.m. – China vs. Ghana

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From the U.S. Soccer Press Release (emphasis added):

“It’s very exciting to have the opportunity for the team to play some of the top countries in the world, especially in group play,” said U.S. U-17 head coach Albertin Montoya. “I’ve seen France and North Korea play in the past year and I would put them in the top five in the world. I had the opportunity to watch France in the European U-17 championships and they are very technical and have one of the most special players in the world in their No. 10. I thought Korea was the best team in Asian qualifying although they lost to Japan on a last-minute goal. They are typically strong all over the field but also athletic, and they will be dangerous. Honestly, we don’t know much about Gambia, but we’ll get a chance to see them play over there before our match.”

France’s #10 is playmaking midfielder Sandie Toletti, who had 7 goals and 6 assists in qualifying (UEFA.com profile; FFF.fr profile).

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The United States being in Group B is not as bad for the possibility of live TV coverage on the ESPN networks as I had previously written. Although the first and last group matches will be on Saturdays during collegiate football (gridiron) season, both will be over by 10:00 a.m. EDT, well before the earliest standard kick-off times of high noon. The USA’s first match, against France, will run from 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., so there will be zero conflicts with any live college games or pre-game shows. The only possible conflict for the final group match would be with a pre-game or talk show. So, the chance that all three group matches could be aired live on ESPNU is not significantly hurt by the USA’s schedule.

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For more on the teams, see this previous post, which summarized the qualification paths for all sixteen teams, along with known friendly results for most of the teams.

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