Moving beyond the quarter-finals is one of the main goals of the national junior women’s team as they prepare for the International Soccer Federation’s (FIFA) fourth Under-17 competition starting on Saturday in Costa Rica.
Canada bowed out to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the round of eight in the last tournament in Azerbaijan two years ago and at the same stage of the 2008 inaugural competition in New Zealand.
The national side meets Germany on March 15, Korea DPR three days later and Ghana on March 22.
National coach Bev Priestman said the World Cup excites the players even though they are in a tough group.
“We get to test these talented players against historically strong Under-17 teams who are tier one and do it trying to stay true to our DNA and style of play,” she said. “We have an aim of providing these girls as many games as possible, and therefore, we aim to progress out of the group, one which has been labelled the group of death.
“This tournament provides these players with an opportunity to demonstrate their ability against some of the best players in the world at their age group. Hopefully, this is a springboard to progress up in our system. It’s an exciting time.”
Fullback Sura Yekka is among four newcomers in the squad that did not compete in the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) qualifier last year.
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary School Grade 11 student , who has committed to the University of Michigan, impressed senior team coach John Herdman during a friendly international against Mexico last November in British Columbia.
In just her second senior team appearance, the 16-year-old created scoring opportunities for national captain Christine Sinclair and drew several penalties and corner kicks.
“She brought a real spark,” Herdman said after the scoreless contest. “If anything, she pretty much showed the way in terms of a positive attitude to really take it to Mexico and I think a couple of players fed off her energy.”
The squad also includes Montreal midfielder Karima Lemire who started playing the sport at age three and defender Mika Richards whose father and mother migrated from Jamaica and Guyana respectively.
A total of 16 teams are competing in the junior World Cup that ends on April 4.
Group “A” comprises host country Costa Rica, Venezuela, Italy and Zambia; the Group “C” teams are New Zealand, Paraguay, Spain and Japan; and Nigeria, Mexico, Colombia and China are in Group “D”.
France, which became the first European team to win the Under-17 World Cup after defeating North Korea 7-6 on penalty kicks in October 2012, did not qualify for this edition after losing 4-0 to Germany in the European championship quarter finals last November.
Meanwhile, veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc celebrated her 100th start for Canada last week with a 3-0 shutout over Finland in the seventh annual Cyprus Cup invitation tournament in Larnaca.
The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and Dominica, LeBlanc is one of just eight Canadian players and the only national goalkeeper – male or female – with over 100 caps. The University of Nebraska business administration graduate made her senior team debut in an international friendly against China in Montreal in 1998.
Born in Atlanta where her parents moved temporarily for three weeks to avoid Hurricane David, 33-year-old LeBlanc grew up in Dominica before the family relocated to Maple Ridge in British Columbia when she was eight.