In Group A, everyone’s attention was on the three teams which the host country would compete with in its first ever appearance at this tournament. Upon learning that his side would face Spain, Mexico and New Zealand, Robbie Johnson, who only became Jordan’s head coach four weeks ago, contemplated their opening game against the Iberians. “It’s clearly going to be an exciting game for us as I think Spain are one of the teams that will go far in the tournament. In the previous edition, they lost the final to Japan, while a few days ago they were only beaten by Germany in the final of the UEFA U-17 Championship in a penalty shoot-out. So, yes, I think all eyes will definitely be on this match,” he said with a note of English reserve.
“Starting tomorrow, the girls will begin training. They know who they’re up against and we’re going to make our plans with this in mind. We need to work hard but we’ve got a few months to improve our preparations. We have to believe in ourselves and who knows what will happen on the day?” Johnson added.
“This morning I met the New Zealand players. We spoke for a while and they told me they wanted to play against Jordan. I said, ‘Of course, we also want to play against you!’ So I think the draw gave us all what we wanted,” he concluded with a laugh.
Once European champions Germany were allocated Group B, the remaining sides watched in suspense as Venezuela, Cameroon and Canada were fated to join them. Unsurprisingly, Venezuela coach Kenneth Zseremeta immediately dubbed it the “group of death”. The reigning South American champions, who also finished fourth at the last U-17 World Cup, are in for a tough battle, according to their coach: “It’s going to be difficult for everyone. Germany have just won the UEFA U-17 Championship, Canada have been developing their women’s teams for years, while this very good Cameroon side are sure to make a spirited debut at the event. But that’s not going to lower our spirits. Rather it’s going to make us more determined to prepare as best we as we can over the next few months. We performed well at Costa Rica 2014 and came really close to getting a medal. Now, two years on, opportunity has knocked again and we’re aiming to succeed this time,” he said.
Not just making up the numbers
England coach John Griffiths spoke frankly about his side’s determination after being placed in Group C alongside Nigeria, Brazil, and Korea DPR. He said, “This tournament has got the 16 best teams in the world. As far as I can see all the groups are difficult. The variety of footballing styles is really exciting. We want to show off our abilities, of course, and have no intention of just making up the numbers. We’re here to win games and qualify [for the knockout phase]. I hope we get off to a really good start.”
Asked about the prospect of taking on former champions Korea DPR, the England coach added: “Yes, yes, that’s going to be difficult of course. Playing against teams with history in these competitions makes matches difficult. They won the first edition of this tournament and the AFC Championship on their way to this World Cup, but we’re ready for anyone.”
The coach feels that the achievement of the England senior team in taking bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Canada 2015 can be a further motivation for his young charges. “We want to accomplish something similar. That achievement will have a positive effect on the team and hopefully spur them on to a podium place at Jordan 2016,” he said.
At Costa Rica 2014, Japan showed themselves to be a cut above the rest to deservedly win that year’s U-17 Women World’s Cup. So we asked coach Kusunose Naoki how his side planned to cope with the pressure of being defending champions when they take on USA, Paraguay and Ghana in Group D. “We know very well how much pressure the team will be under to retain their title. We’re going to use this pressure as a positive force and to motivate the players to do the same as they did in 2014… Our group is difficult - there’s no doubt about that – and playing against these teams won’t be easy. Everyone will be getting ready for this tournament and their goal will be to beat us. We need to prepare well so we can play the way we should,” he said.
Now, that the final countdown has begun, all the competing sides can expect four months of hard work until the tournament begins in September. With training camps, friendlies and preparation work the order of the day, summer holidays this year will take a back seat as the teams leave no stone unturned in their quest for glory at Jordan 2016.