U.S. DRAWN INTO GROUP E OF 2009 FIFA UNDER-17 WORLD CUP IN NIGERIA WITH SPAIN, MALAWI, AND UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
* U.S. to Open Group Play on Oct. 26 Against Spain, Continue on Oct. 29 Versus Malawi and Nov. 1 Against UAE * First Two Games to be Played in Kano, Third Match in Ijebu-Ode * U.S. the Only Country to Qualify for All 13 FIFA U-17 World Cups
ABUJA, Nigeria (Aug. 7, 2009) – The U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team has been drawn into Group E of the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria with Spain, Malawi and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S., the only country to qualify for all 13 FIFA U-17 World Cups dating back to 1985, will play the first two group games against Spain on Oct. 26 and Malawi on Oct. 29, in Kano before moving to Ijebu-Ode to close out the first round against UAE on Nov. 1. The 2009 tournament will be the fifth straight time that the U.S. has been drawn into a group with a team from Europe, Africa and Asia.
“We knew that whatever group we were going to be placed into would have three good teams,” said U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team head coach Wilmer Cabrera after the draw. “We are familiar with Spain a little bit because we played them last year, and we know that Malawi and UAE will be difficult. It’s not easy to qualify from Europe, Africa or from Asia so we know we will have to play well if we are going to advance. The three teams in our group have very different styles, so it should be very interesting.”
Spain qualified as one of six teams from Europe at the 2009 UEFA U-17 Championship, where three consecutive 0-0 draws were enough to earn third place in the group. The two-time reigning continental champions failed to earn a third straight European crown, but Spain finished as runners-up in Korea DPR at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup. The United States has met Spain once before in this event, closing out the first round of the 2003 event with a 2-0 loss in Lahti, Finland.
The U.S. and Spain played a friendly in Madrid on Feb. 18, in an evenly matched game that saw Spain score a game-winner in second-half stoppage time.
“We played Spain earlier this year and we learned we have to stay focused for 90 minutes because they were able to capitalize on a lapse in the last minute, like good teams tend to do,” said U.S. U-17 midfielder Marlon Duran. “But that game did give us confidence that we are able to compete at a high level and made us realize some things that we need to work on between now and the World Cup so I think it will help us.”
The USA’s second opponent, Malawi, replaced Zambia as one of four teams to qualify from the African U-17 Championship after Zambia was disqualified from the competition. Malawi will be competing in the country’s first ever FIFA tournament as one of five representatives from the host continent. The U.S. has an all-time record of 2-6-1 against African teams at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
The United Arab Emirates overcame a shaky start to the 2008 AFC U-16 Championship to book their place in Nigeria. Opening the qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw with Yemen and a 6-1 loss to Japan, a 3-2 win against Malaysia kept UAE’s hopes alive. Needing to top highly-rated Australia to advance, UAE stunned the Aussies with a 3-2 win to clinch a berth in the semifinals and book one of Asia’s four tickets to Nigeria.
“I was talking with some of the other guys about the tournament and how excited we are, and now that we know who we’ll be playing I think we’re even more anxious,” said U.S. goalkeeper Earl Edwards. “It’s a good kind of anxious though. Now that the pieces are coming together, we just need to focus on our team and how we’re going to play.”
Cabrera and the U.S. team are currently in Miami, Fla., in their last training camp before the fall semester of Residency resumes at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. The camp, which began on Aug. 6 and runs through Aug. 15, includes two friendly matches against fellow World Cup participant, Colombia.
“We started preparing for the World Cup as soon as we came back to Bradenton after qualifying,” said U.S. defender and team captain Perry Kitchen. “Every day we will be together in Residency so I think that will help and I think the coaches will prepare us as best as possible. We are all excited and focused as the tournament gets closer, especially now that we know who we will be playing.”
The U.S. qualified for Nigeria by winning Group A at the 2009 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Tijuana, Mexico, in April. The U.S. won three straight games in Tijuana to earn a place in the semifinals, but with the four regional representatives determined by group play of that event, the semifinals and final of the tournament were cancelled due to concerns over the H1N1 virus.
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