By RON FANFAIR
Canadian soccer supporters finally have something to cheer. The women’s Under-17 team knocked off arch-rivals the United States and Mexico to qualify for this year’s International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup and win the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer’s (CONCACAF) regional competition last weekend in Costa Rica.
The national side defeated the Americans on penalty kicks in the semifinals to advance to the World Cup, and edged the Mexicans 1-0 in the championship game. It was sweet revenge for the Canadians who lost 1-0 to Mexico in the tournament’s first round after completing 4-1 and 2-1 victories over Jamaica and Panama, respectively.
“We are ecstatic,” said coach Bryan Rosenfeld after the championship match. “To come out as CONCACAF champions, winning a gold medal through all the adversity…we definitely took the hard road. It showed a lot of character from our Canadian girls.”
Canada, Mexico, the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Japan, the Korean Republic, defending champions the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and host country Trinidad & Tobago have booked their places for the second FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the twin-island republic in September. A total of 16 teams will take part in the tournament.
Canada lost to Germany 3-1 in the quarterfinals in the inaugural tournament in New Zealand two years ago.
Last February, Canada’s Under-20 women’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since the tournament was launched eight years ago.
And, facing widespread criticism, the Confederation of African Soccer (CAF) is defending its decision to ban Togo from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments.
The CAF has also taken aim at the press for “tarnishing the image of high personalities of the hierarchy of African soccer”.
In addition to the ban, Togo was also handed a $50,000 fine for withdrawing from last month’s competition in Angola after a gun attack on the team bus killed the driver and two members of the team’s party prior to the start of the tournament.
CAF claims the West African players wanted to take part in the tournament and therefore the decision to pull them out amounted to government interference. The CAF ruling has been widely condemned.
The governing body for African soccer said its executive committee unanimously voted to suspend Togo from the next two tournaments.
“The decision was taken on the basis of the regulations of the competition and the statutes of CAF,” the organization said in a statement.
Protestors in Togo have called for CAF president Issa Hayatou to step down while a section of the media blamed the Cameroonian administrator for the decision. But the CAF executive committee praised its leader, insisting that he is the right man to lead the continental body.
“The CAF executive committee strongly and officially congratulates President Issa Hayatou and reiterates to him its total confidence,” the statement added. “He has our constant support and encouragement to pursue the ambitious and laudable projects for the development of African soccer.”
Togo, which was not in last month’s 2012 African Cup of Nations draw, has appealed the ban with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A total of 44 teams were placed in 11 groups. Defending champions Egypt is in the same group with World Cup hosts South Africa, Sierra Leone and Niger while Nigeria is grouped with Guinea, Ethiopia and Madagascar.
Ghana’s group contains the Congo, Sudan and Swaziland and Cameroon competes against Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mauritius.
The group winners and the best three runners-up qualify for the finals with co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.