The 2001 U.S. Under-17s will try and build on the heralded success of the U.S. squad that finished in third place at the 1999 U-17 World Championship in New Zealand. In New Zealand '99 the U.S. advanced to the semifinal round for the first time in the team's history, only to lose in a penalty kick shootout to Australia, 6-7.
"Now that we know who we are going to play, I think it will give the kids a little more motivation to train hard the next five months," U.S. head coach John Ellinger said. "With only 16 teams here, you have to respect all the teams and realize that any of the teams that get to this point have a great team. Every game is going to be very competitive and you have to approach the tournament with that in mind."
The U.S. advanced to their ninth consecutive Under-17 (previously Under-16) World Championship with three convincing wins at the CONCACAF Group A qualifying tournament in St. Louis, Mo., in April. The USA outscored their opponents 10-3 and were led by forward Ed Johnson's five goals.
The U.S. will open Group B play against Japan on Sept. 14 in a rematch of two nations that met in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Olympics. Japan started the 2000 Asian Youth Under-16 Championship by going undefeated in four group play games to advance to the semifinals. Japan lost 3-2 to Oman in the semis, but rebounded to top Vietnam 4-2 to grab the AFC's final spot in Trinidad & Tobago. The U.S. fell to Japan in the nations' only meeting in the Under-17 World Championship, falling 1-2 in Ecuador '95.
The U.S. will follow Japan with a match against France two days later on Sept. 16. France stormed through the Under-16 UEFA Championships, winning their first five matches, including a 4-0 win over England in the semifinals. France's run came to an end in the final, when Spain scored on a penalty in the 76th minute for the win. France's potent offense is led by Florent Sinama Pongolle, who tied for the UEFA tournament lead with six goals, and Anthony Le Tallec, who tallied five times in six matches.
The U.S. will wrap up group play on Sept. 19 against African powerhouse Nigeria. Nigeria, the African champions, topped Burkina Faso in the final, after inching by Mali on penalty kicks in the semifinal. Nigeria was an offensive machine in group play, outscoring their opponents 9-3 in two wins and a draw in Group 2 to advance to the semifinals.
The two 1999 finalists, Australia and Brazil, will meet again in Group A, where they are joined by UEFA's third-place team Croatia, and the host Trinidad & Tobago.
UEFA champions Spain will be joined by CAF runner-up Burkina Faso, AFC champions Oman, and CONMEBOL runner-ups Argentina.
The Under-17 field is completed by Group D and CONCACAF Group B champions Costa Rica, AFC runner-ups Iran, CONMEBOL third-place finishers Paraguay and the third-place CAF team, Mali.
The Under-17 World Championship will be the first FIFA World Championship event ever staged in a Carribean nation. Earlier this year, Trinidad & Tobago served as a host to the CONCACAF Under-20 Group B qualifying tournament.
The two-island nation of Trinidad & Tobago marks the southeastern corner of the Carribean, and Trinidad lies just seven miles north of the coast of Venezuela. Tobago is the smaller of the two islands, and will host just one of the four groups. The nation, which is still a member of the British Commonwealth, has a combined population of approximately 1.3 million people, with nearly 1.25 million living in Trinidad.
The United States is part of the only group that will play in Tobago. Located 35 kilometers northeast of Trinidad, Tobago is the less populated of the two-island nation. Dwight Yorke Stadium was constructed specifically for the Under-17 World Championship and will have a capacity of 7,000 for the tournament.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%How they got here ....
- France: Finished second in the 2001 UEFA Under-16 Championship. Lost 1-0 to Spain in the UEFA final on a late penalty kick.
- Japan: Finished third in the 2000 Asian Youth U-16 Championship. Lost to Oman in the semifinals before rebounding to top host Vietnam in the third-place match.
- Nigeria: Won the CAF 2001 Under-17 Championship. Topped Mali on penalty kicks in the semifinals before topping Burkina Faso in the final.
- Group A - Trinidad & Tobago, Croatia, Australia, Brazil
- Group B - United States, Japan, France, Nigeria
- Group C - Argentina, Spain, Burkina Faso, Oman
- Group D - Costa Rica, Paraguay, Mali, Iran