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USA lead the way to Korea


FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.

Both the USA and Costa Rica qualified from the five-team group in Kingston with one match to spare, before the Americans knocked off the Ticos on the final match day to finish top of the table on nine points.

“It’s amazing. Now we have to look forward to South Korea and the World Cup. We have to get prepared for that and be determined to do well there as well,” remarked US midfielder Gregory Garza, who combined with Ellis McLoughlin to see off Costa Rica 2-1 in their final test.

The only team to have qualified for every instalment of the FIFA U-17 World Cup (formerly the FIFA U-17 World Championship), few were expecting the USA to stumble in Kingston. And stumble they did not - despite a major hiccup along the way.

After opening their account with a simple 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago on 29 April, the Americans - led by veteran boss John Hackworth - kept up their form with a 2-1 win over Canada two days later, resisting a late fight-back from their neighbours to the north to book their passage to Korea with six points - good enough for at least a third-place finish. In their third contest, though, the favourites were hit with a proper shock when, after taking a 2-0 lead, they let their advantage slip by conceding three goals in the last ten minutes against hosts Jamaica. It was the Americans’ first loss at U-17 or U-16 level to Caribbean opposition since 1988, and it brought their 18-game unbeaten streak to a halt.

Despite the upset, they righted the ship to beat Costa Rica in their final match and finish top of the group.

Costa Rica were surely not too disappointed with the result, as they had also assured themselves of a spot at the world finals thanks to amassing seven points from their first three matches. Manuel Urena’s men saw off Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 in their first game, courtesy of two goals in six minutes from Diego Brenes, who broke the deadlock on 70 minutes, and Jorge Castro. The red-clad side - who reached the quarter-finals of Peru 2005 - then went on to collect a hard-earned point against an impressive and ambitious Canadian outfit two days later. Though there were no goals scored in the highly tactical contest, the Central Americans had the run of the play and the better scoring chances.

They booked their passage to Korea two days later by edging out the hosts 1-0. Again Castro was the hero on the day, scoring the only goal of the affair. Their loss to the USA on 6 May was not so bitter in the light of their securing a place at Korea 2007, which will be Costa Rica’s seventh FIFA U-17 world finals, a best among Central American nations.

T&T explode
Whereas both the Americans and the Ticos were able to ease through their final match, both knowing their fate, Trinidad & Tobago had to sweat out their final matchday. Earning three points from a 2-1 win over Canada, they were one point behind the Canucks (on 4) and facing a Caribbean grudge-match with the host Jamaicans, who were also on three points.

The situation was simple: win to go through. The Trinidadians kept the calmer of the two island sides and 16-year-old Kevin Molino’s lone goal in the 13th minute had the young Soca Warriors cheering their ticket to Korea.

The win marks a massive boom for the dual-island nation, whose senior side turned heads and created a sensation in their first-ever appearance at a FIFA World Cup™ last year in Germany.

The USA, T&T and Costa Rica will now join debutants Haiti and Honduras in the Far East, the two sides qualifying vying the first Group (A) of qualifying last month in Tegucigalpa. CONCACAF - along with UEFA - will send the largest party to the Far East, with five representatives in all.


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