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U-17 MNT Drawn Into Group E With Belgium, Tajikistan and Tunisia for World Cup


CHICAGO (May 17, 2007) – The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team has been drawn into Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Tajikistan for the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea, which will take place from August 18-September 9.

The U.S., who was one of the seeded teams in the draw, opens against Tajikistan on August 20, then faces Tunisia on August 23 and concludes group play on August 26 against Belgium. The U.S. will play Tajikistan and Tunisia in Changwon before heading to Cheonan to face Belgium. Every U.S. match at the U-17 World Cup can be followed live via ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.

"On paper, it may seem like a favorable draw for us, however, in my experience at the Under-17 World Cup you never know really what's going to happen because at this age level things are definitely a little unpredictable," said U.S. Under-17 MNT head coach John Hackworth, who will lead the U.S. into the World Cup for the second time. "We know very little about Tajikistan and Tunisia, so that is going to be a huge challenge for us. We do know a little about Belgium, but we have some work to do to get prepared for all of our teams in Group E. It will be very interesting come this August when we kick off the World Cup." [Quotes | Listen]

The 24-team field is divided into six groups of four, with the top two teams from each group and the top four (of six) third-place teams advancing to the Round of 16. The 52-match tournament will take place at seven venues in South Korea with games in Suwon, Ulsan, Seogwipo, Goyang, Gwangyang, Cheonan and Seoul. The U.S. will play all their group matches in Changwon and Cheonan.

The U.S. qualified for South Korea ’07 with a first-place finish in Group A of the CONCACAF U-17 Final Round Qualifying Tournament in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this month. The U.S. scored nine goals in four games during qualifying, including three during their shutout victory in their opening game against Trinidad & Tobago. The U-17s then topped Canada, 2-1, before falling to host Jamaica, 3-2, but bounced back to defeat Costa Rica, 2-1, to ensure themselves the top spot in the group.

The United States’ first opponent, Tajikistan, will be competing in its first-ever World Cup at any level, as one of four teams to qualify from Asia. They went through Iraq (1-0), Iran (2-1) and Yemen (4-3) to advance into the quarterfinals.  The underdogs confidently beat South Korea, 1-0, in the quarterfinal clash to book their place in the semifinals, and a trip to the World Cup.

"I've been doing my homework before the draw and after the draw we did talk some people from North Korea and they told us that Tajikistan is just like the North Koreans,” said Hackworth. “Basically, they are in full-time residency, they're very committed and serious about their preparation. They're similar to North Korea, and we played North Korea in Peru (at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Cup). Much like this, people said North Korea would be nothing and they turned out to be one of the surprise teams in that tournament. So, it sounds like we'll have our hands full with Tajikistan."

Tunisia is the lone U.S. opponent with prior Under-17 World Cup experience, having qualified for the event in Japan in 1993, but failing to advance through the first round. Tunisia’s qualification process got off to a rough start, stumbling to a 0-0 draw against Gabon in their opening group clash, but they bounced back for a 3-0 win over Togo in their second game.  Another draw against South Africa set up a semifinal matchup against Nigeria, two-time Under-17 World Cup Champions.  Though they could not pull off the upset, the Tunisians had already secured their place in South Korea as one of the top four teams in the CAF Region.

Belgium played host to the Final Round of the UEFA Under-17 European Championship, and advanced to the semifinals, where they were ousted by Spain in penalty kicks.  The Belgians, one of five representatives of the region, highlighted their qualification campaign with a 5-1 victory over Iceland in the final round and secured their first-ever trip to the Under-17 World Cup.

Should the U.S. advance through the group stage, they will likely face a more traditional Under-17 power. A top finish in their group would pit the U.S. against the second-place finisher of a strong Group D that includes two-time champion Nigeria, 2001 champion France, Japan and Haiti.  If Hackworth’s team finishes second in Group E, they would face the top finisher from Group F that includes two-time champion Ghana, Germany, Colombia and Trinidad & Tobago.

Visit the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup competitions page at ussoccer.com for a complete schedule and standings, plus features, podcasts, and exclusive all_access video coverage of the U-17 MNT in South Korea.

Group E Schedule
Date        Teams                                           Time (Local)        Venue
Aug. 20   Belgium vs. Tunisia                        5 pm                      Changwon
Aug. 20   Tajkistan vs. United States      8 pm                      Changwon
Aug. 23   United States vs. Tunisia          5 pm                      Changwon
Aug. 23   Tajikistan vs. Belgium                    8 pm                      Changwon
Aug. 26   Belgium vs. United States        4 pm                      Cheonan
Aug. 26   Tunisia vs. Tajikistan                      4 pm                      Suwon

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