The Under-17 Women’s World Cup Kicks-Off on Saturday: Match Day 1 Preview

The 2012 Under-17 Women’s World Cup, hosted by Azerbaijan, kicks-off on Saturday, September 22nd. Among the teams playing on Saturday are the United States in Group B (5:48 a.m. EDT, ESPN3.com) and Canada in Group A (7:48 a.m. EDT, ESPN3.com). Both teams face stiff opponents in their opening matches. For the United States, their opposition is France, who narrowly lost to Germany on penalties in the final of the UEFA Championship. Meanwhile, Canada will play Nigeria, the top team from Africa. The third team from CONCACAF, Mexico, begins group play on Sunday against New Zealand.

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HOW TO WATCH

In the United States, all matches will be streamed live via ESPN3.com (WatchESPN). Matches should also be available for on-demand replays within an hour or so after their conclusion.

USA Group Matches:
Saturday, 22-Sept, 5:48 a.m. EDT – vs. France
Tuesday, 25-Sept, 7:48 a.m. EDT – vs. Gambia
Saturday, 29-Sept, 7:48 a.m. EDT – vs. North Korea

The times above are when the streams “go live.” Kick-offs will be on the following hour. E.g., the USA/France kicks-off at 6:00 a.m. EDT.

For the complete ESPN3.com schedule, see this earlier post.

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SATURDAY’S MATCHES

North Korea vs. Gambia (Group B, 3:48 a.m. EDT) — Debutante Gambia, who is the youngest squad in the tournament, finds itself in the “Group of Death.” Its first opponent is a typically imposing and well-prepared North Korean squad, whose experience and technical skills will probably be too much for the youth and inexperience of Gambia.

United States vs. France (Group B, 5:48 a.m. EDT) — The marquee match of the group stage pits two teams with similar styles. (Yes, really.) Both play a possession-oriented passing game out of their 4-3-3 formations. Both feature highly touted #10s: Morgan Andrews for the USA and Sandie Toletti for France (although Andrews is used primarily in a holding role, while Toletti has more of a floating attacking/defending role). And, both feature some quality forwards: For the USA, Summer Green, who scored 12 goals in qualifying (5 matches) and is already making a name for herself at UNC, while France has Kadidiatou Diani, who had 7 goals in qualifying (7 matches) and has a lethal combination of speed, physicality, and skill. Although the two teams are similar, the USA should the have the edge in key areas: Namely goalkeeping, with Jane Campbell, who has skills and composure beyond her years; a taught defense, led by co-captain Maddie Bauer; and flank forwards Darian Jenkins and Midge Purce who should be able to cause havoc against France’s fullbacks.

Canada vs. Nigeria (Group A, 7:48 a.m. EDT) — The first match in Group A is between the group favorites. Canada, under head coach Bryan Rosenfeld, favors a direct approach in their 4-4-2 formation, with the goalkeeper typically punting the ball long, rather than starting the attack out of the back. Against the USA in the CONCACAF qualifying final, Canada struggled with midfield passing. Nigeria’s speed and raw soccer abilities should pose a real challenge for Canada, and one they may not overcome, unless helped via mistakes by Nigeria.

Azerbaijan vs. Colombia (Group A, 9:48 a.m. EDT) — It is not a stretch to say that women’s soccer did not exist in Azerbaijan when the country was awarded this tournament (FIFA.com). Azerbaijan is a considerable underdog in this tournament, and for it to have any realistic chance of making the knock-out stage, the hosts need a win against the third-placed team out of CONMEBOL, Colombia, who is the weakest team among the host’s group opponents.