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U.S. Draws Korea, Sierra Leone and Spain for FIFA Under-17 World Championship

HELSINKI, Finland (June 11, 2003) — The United States Under-17 Men’s National Team has been drawn into Group D with Korea, Sierra Leone and Spain for the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Championship in Finland.

The U.S. opens against Korea on August 14 at 5:30 p.m. local time/10:30 a.m. ET, then faces Sierra Leone on August 17 (3 p.m. local time/8 a.m. ET) and concludes group play on August 20 (8 p.m. local time/1 p.m. ET) against Spain. The U.S. will play all three of their first round games at Lahti Stadium in Lahti, Finland. Every U.S. match at the World Championship can be followed live via’s MatchTracker, presented by Phillips Electronics.

The U.S. is the only nation to compete in all 10 world championships at this age group. The best finish ever for the U.S. came in New Zealand ‘99, when the U-17s, led by Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, advanced to the semifinals and eventually finished in fourth place.

The 16-team field will be divided into four groups of four, with the top two teams in each group qualifying for the quarterfinals. The tournament will be played in Helsinki (Toolo Stadium), Turku (Turku Stadium), Tampere (Ratina Stadium) and Lahti (Lahti Stadium). The FIFA tournament final will be the first ever played on an artificial surface as Toolo Stadium was recently outfitted with the surface due to Finland’s cold climates, which make it difficult to grow natural grass.

“Any team you draw in your group during a World Championship is going to give you a challenge,” said U.S. U-17 MNT head coach John Ellinger. “We have our work cut out for us against Korea in our first game having just played them, and it won’t get any easier against Sierra Leone or Spain. Each team in the group presents problems and will definitely test our players, but overall I’m happy with the draw and I’m looking forward to all three of our games.”

The match against South Korea will be entertaining, as the U.S. will try to avenge the 3-0 loss to the Koreans on May 31 in the Busan International Youth Tournament in Busan, Korea. The U.S., battling a pro-Korean crowd of 35,000 and a bit of jet-lag, came out flat in the opening game of the tournament and couldn't match the intensity of the host nation. Korea qualified for the World Championship by winning the Asia Under-17 Championship for the first time in 16 years. Korea won in dramatic fashion, beating Yemen 5-3 in penalty kicks after finishing regulation scoreless.

Sierra Leone qualified for their first World Championship after taking second in the CAF Under-17 African Championship just last week in Swaziland. Sierra Leone guaranteed its entry into the finals with an astounding upset over African power Nigeria 1-0 in their semifinal match. Cameroon finally stopped Sierra Leone's cinderella ride, beating the upstarts 1-0 in the final.

Spain qualified for the World Championship after finishing in second place in the UEFA European U-17 Championship, losing to Portugal in the final 2-1. Spain is an explosive team with a prominent goal scorer in forward David Rodriguez Sanchez. Sanchez lit up the final round of UEFA qualifying by scoring six goals, twice as many as any other player. Spain cruised into the final without losing a game and racking up 12 goals in four games.

“Over the past few months we’ve played in a number of international matches, which I think will definitely help us in Finland,” said U.S. Under-17 MNT captain Corey Ashe. “Performing well in the World Championship has been our goal for the past two years and even though we know it is going to be a challenge to advance to the second round, we know we have a good team and have the confidence to go far.”

The U.S. qualified for Finland ’03 by taking first place in Group A of the CONCACAF Under-17 final qualifying tournament in Guatemala this past March. The U.S. secured their ticket to the World Championship with an impressive tally of seven goals and two shutouts in their three matches. The U-17s got clean sheets against Jamaica (3-0) and Guatemala (3-0), and battled to a tie against El Salvador (1-1).

In 2003, the U.S. Under-17s have posted an overall record of 30-7-8, outscoring their opponents more than three to one (123 goals for, 38 goals against). The team has also compiled an imposing 7-3-3 record in international matches this year (31 goals for, 12 against). Recent MLS draftees Guillermo Gonzalez and Eddie Gaven, along with 14-year-old sensation Freddy Adu, direct the U.S. offense. The trio has combined for 44 goals this year, including more than half of the tallies in international matches (16). The defense, paced by center back Jonathan Spector and goalkeeper Phil Marfuggi, has recorded 22 shutouts, seven of which have come in international matches.

Right now, the U.S. squad is on a break, but will regroup for a training camp in Blaine, Minn., which will include a game against Canada on July 13. The team will then head to the newly christened Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., for a week-long training camp before it travels to Manchester, England on July 30 for training and matches that will serve as its final preparations before Finland.

At the most recent Under-17 World Championship in Trinidad & Tobago, the U.S. Under-17 squad got a difficult draw, getting grouped with both the eventual champs France and runner-up Nigeria. The U.S. lost all three of its opening round matches, but did notch three goals against France, the most scored on the eventual champions during the tournament. 

2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship Draw

Group A (Toolo Stadium – Helsinki)
1. Finland
2. China
3. Mexico
4. Colombia

Group B (Turku Stadium - Turku)
1.  Argentina
2.  Australia
3.  Costa Rica
4.  Nigeria

Group C (Ratina Stadium – Tampere)
1. Yemen
2. Portugal
3. Cameroon
4. Brazil

Group D (Lahti Stadium – Lahti)
1. Korea Republic
2. United States
3. Spain
4. Sierra Leone

Match     Date      Teams                         Venue      ET
1     Aug. 13      Finland vs. China    Helsinki      10:30 a.m.
2     Aug. 13     Mexico vs. Colombia     Helsinki     1 p.m.
11     Aug. 16     China vs. Colombia     Helsinki      8 a.m.
12     Aug. 16     Finland vs. Mexico     Helsinki     10:30 a.m.
19  Aug. 19     China vs. Mexico     Helsinki     10:30 a.m.
20     Aug. 20     Colombia vs. Finland     Helsinki      1 p.m.

Match        Date     Teams     Venue     ET
3     Aug. 13     Argentina vs. Australia     Turku     10:30 a.m.
4     Aug. 13     Costa Rica vs. Nigeria     Turku     1 p.m.
9     Aug. 16     Australia vs. Nigeria     Turku     8 a.m.
10     Aug. 16     Argentina vs. Costa Rica     Turku     10:30 a.m.
17     Aug. 19     Nigeria vs. Argentina     Turku      10:30 a.m.
18     Aug. 19     Australia vs. Costa Rica     Turku     1 p.m.

Match     Date     Teams     Venue     ET
5     Aug. 14     Yemen vs. Portugal     Tampere     10:30 a.m.
6     Aug. 14     Cameroon vs. Brazil     Tampere     1 p.m.
13     Aug. 17     Portugal vs. Brazil    Tampere     8 a.m.
14     Aug. 17     Yemen vs. Cameroon     Tampere     10:30 a.m.
21     Aug. 20     Brazil vs. Yemen     Tampere     10:30 a.m.
22     Aug. 20     Portugal vs. Cameroon     Tampere     1 p.m.

Match     Date     Teams     Venue     ET
7     Aug. 14     Korea vs. USA     Lahti     10:30 a.m.
8     Aug. 14    Spain vs. Sierra Leone     Lahti     1 p.m.
15     Aug. 17     USA vs. Sierra Leone     Lahti     8 a.m.
16     Aug. 17     Korea vs. Spain     Lahti     10:30 a.m.
23     Aug. 20     Sierra Leone vs. Korea     Lahti     10:30 a.m.
24     Aug. 20     USA vs. Spain     Lahti     1 p.m.
Match     Date      Teams                         Venue      ET
25       Aug. 23    1st A vs. 2nd B    Helsinki    8 a.m.
26       Aug. 23    1st B vs. 2nd A    Lahti    11 a.m.
27       Aug. 24    1st C vs. 2nd D    Turku    8 a.m.
28       Aug. 24    1st D vs. 2nd C    Tampere    11 a.m.

Match     Date      Teams                         Venue      ET
29       Aug. 27    W25 vs. W27    Tampere    10 a.m.
30       Aug. 27    W26 vs. W28    Helsinki    1 p.m.

Match     Date      Teams                         Venue      ET
31      Aug. 30    L29 vs. L30    Helsinki    8 a.m.

Match     Date      Teams                         Venue      ET
32      Aug. 30    W29 vs. W30    Helsinki    11 a.m.