The popularity of women's football in South America is clearly on the up, and from 7 to 23 March fans will be able to see their heroes first-hand at the CONMEBOL Women's U-20 Championship in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The continent's ten national teams are set to face off with a tantalising prize at stake: two places at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008, taking place between 19 November and 7 December.
The cities of Porto Alegre and Bage are currently preparing to welcome some of the hottest prospects in the South American women's game, and players and organisers will be hoping for an enthusiastic reception from a Brazilian public whose national team enjoyed a 2007 to remember. The two cities will host one group each with the matches to be played on a round-robin basis. The top two teams in each group will go through to the four-team final round, also played using the round-robin format, with the first and second-placed finishers securing their involvement in Chile.
Group A: Brazil and one other?
Hosts Brazil are overwhelming favourites to top the five-team group in Porto Alegre, which also includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. The event will be coach Kleiton Lima's first official competition at the helm of the Auriverdes, winners on two previous occasions.
"It's a difficult group because it includes teams that are in the midst of an evolutionary process," said the recently-appointed coach. "Of course Brazil are strong, and are favourites to qualify, not just because of home advantage but because of having won the title twice. We're working hard on the physical, technical and tactical aspects of the game."
In the Paraguay camp, meanwhile, coach Carlos Baez is under pressure to follow the example set by the country's U-17 side, who qualified for the global showpiece in New Zealand later this year. Baez has called on the services of five of those talented youngsters, including star striker Karen Ruiz Diaz, top scorer at January's CONMEBOL Women's U-17 Championship in Chile.
Hopes are also high for Ecuador and coach Cesar Zambrano, the Tricolor supremo having had two full months to put his charges through their paces. Following Paraguay's lead, Zambrano has called on several members of the U-17 squad that put in a solid performance on Chilean soil. A lot is expected of key players Amy Guevara and Ana Palacios.
Prior to setting off for Brazil, Peru coach Lizandro Barbaran Pinedo highlighted the hard work his players had put into their pre-tournament preparations: "The girls are putting in the effort every day, giving their all towards our goal of a place in the final round, which is what we all want. We're going to fight to the end to achieve something that would be a great source of satisfaction for women's football and the country as a whole."
And though the Peruvians and fellow group members Bolivia are widely considered as rank outsiders, both harbour hopes of leaving their mark at the competition.
Group B: Evenly balanced
Set to go head-to-head in Bage are Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela and Chile - the latter already guaranteed a FIFA U-20 World Cup berth as the host nation. Las Rojitas, under the guidance of coach Marta Tejedor, will be looking to build on their promising performance at the recent Torneo de la Serena. Tejedor's charges finished second behind the USA and ahead of both Norway and England in February's four-team event.
"Given the work we've put in and the standard of our play, we ought to make it through the first round," said the Chilean supremo. "This is the best-prepared women's team in the history of women's football, but we still need to be careful. The girls haven't played many matches together and need competitive experience, and that's what we're trying to gain at the moment."
Carlos Borrello's Albicelestes, tipped as second favourites behind Brazil, include seven players who travelled to the global U-20 showpiece at Russia 2006. Four of this number, including Emilia Mendieta, also made the senior squad for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. Results in China may have been less than encouraging, but the international experience gained will no doubt stand them in good stead.
As for Colombia, coach Pedro Ignacio Rodriguez was clear about their ambitions:"Our goal is to secure one of the two places for Chile (2008). But it's a tough task because Brazil, given their status as hosts and their quality, will surely take one. This leaves just one spot for eight teams to contest."
"This squad's profile is very similar to the one that won the South American U-17 tournament," continued the Cafetero strategist, who led that U-17 squad to regional glory. "They've got good technical ability, great mental strength and are very confident in their own ability," he concluded.
A very evenly matched group, at least on paper, is completed by Rolando Bello's Vinotinto and a Celeste squad coached by Jose Luis Rodriguez. Both teams will be aiming for a place in the four-team final round.
CONMEBOL Women's U-20 Championship 2008 fixtures
(All times are local)
07/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - Bolivia vs. Peru
18:00 - Ecuador vs. Paraguay
16:00 - Colombia vs. Uruguay
18:00 - Venezuela vs. Chile
09/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - Peru vs. Ecuador
18:00 - Brazil vs. Bolivia
16:00 - Chile vs. Colombia
18:00 - Argentina vs. Venezuela.
11/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - Paraguay vs. Peru
18:00 - Ecuador vs. Brazil
16:00 - Uruguay vs. Chile
18:00 - Colombia vs. Argentina.
13/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - Bolivia vs. Ecuador
18:00 - Brazil vs. Paraguay
16:00 - Venezuela vs. Colombia
18:00 - Argentina vs. Uruguay
15/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - Paraguay vs. Bolivia
18:00 - Peru vs. Brazil
16:00 - Uruguay vs. Venezuela
18:00 - Chile vs. Argentina
19/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - 1st Group A vs. 2nd Group B
18:00 - 1st Gp.B vs. 2nd Gp.A
21/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - 1st Gp.A vs. 2nd Gp.A
18:00 - 1st Gp.B vs. 2nd Gp.B
23/03/2008, Porto Alegre
16:00 - 2nd Gp.A vs. 2nd Gp.B
18.00 - 1st Gp.A vs. 1st Gp.B
Chile will also be in the WC due to their Host Status ... They did well in this competition by advancing to the 2nd round...They could still attain the 3rd place, depending of the outcome of their last game vs Paraguay .
Chile is playing in the SA jusy to get experience ... yesterday lost with Argentina bust just because of defensive mistakes ... with more expreience that wouldnt happen.
This World Cup will be great for the female football in our country.