The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup has had a festive first week at Costa Rica, where young women are playing some serious football. Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela, Italy and Ghana were the six teams that had sailed through to the quarterfinals by Saturday. In the remaining league matches on Saturday night, Canada was the next to enter the last eight by beating Group B table toppers Ghana. The last quarterfinalist will emerge from the cluster of Paraguay, New Zealand, and Spain, when last league games are concluded on Sunday night. In the knock-out phase, all quarterfinals will be played on March 27, 2014. The league matches have shown that women are taking to football with the same zeal, which one associates with senior men. Some of these little girls have been able to demonstrate their superior ball skills and invited attention from everyone. To top it all, they have earned accolades from famous professionals.
The first footballer in this league is Costa Rican captain, Gloriana Villalobos. Not quite 15 yet, Gloriana’s game skills have not gone unnoticed and her coach singles her out for praise at every opportunity. Gloriana has found another person, who is highly impressed by her game. Jorge Pinto is the manager of Costa Rica’s national team for the Brazil World Cup and he is absolutely taken in by her improvisation skills on the field. Pinto said that he would like to take little Gloriana with him to Brazil because it could be great learning experience for the girl. After Venezuela beat the hosts in the inaugural match, even the Venezuelan coach Kenneth Zseremeta praised Gloriana’s football skills in the post-match interview. Similarly, after Italy’s game with Costa Rica, Italian coach Enrico Sbardella said that when Gloriana has the ball, she is simply unstoppable. While the hosts couldn’t win any of their league games, everyone agreed that a bright future awaits Gloriana Villalobos, a footballer with the capability of carrying future Costa Rica team on her young shoulders.
Measuring just 5 feet from the ground, Colombia’s Maria Hurtado may not have the height required for football players but she is not bothered about her physique. The pint-sized girl runs in the field with great speed and superb ball control and this leaves the opponents stunned. Her team lost to Nigeria 1-2 in a league game and Maria was inconsolable since that meant elimination for Colombia. Not surprisingly, her team-mates call her Pele for the fearlessness that she displays on the football field. She is a creative midfielder, who started playing when she was just 10. Colombian coach Fabian Taborda thinks Maria as a born winner and in the match against Nigeria, she didn’t want to give in, despite the injury she suffered. Maria likes Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard but her role model is Carlos Valderrama. Colombia has one league game left, where they take on China PR at Liberia tonight. There is no doubt that Maria will make her last appearance in Costa Rica and show her admirers why she is called Pele.
Then there is Marie Levasseur from Canada, who scored 6 goals in Canada’s progress through the qualifying rounds. Marie is from Quebec but that is no surprise since nearly half the Canadian girls, playing in the U-17 world Cup, hail from that Canadian region. She couldn’t play the game against Korea DPR because of injury but scored once in Canada’s 2-2 draw against Germany and last night she netted both goals against Ghana in her team’ 2-1 victory, which secured the quarterfinal berth for Canada. Incidentally Marie’s twin sister Catherine is also a footballer but Cathy narrowly missed national selection, though she is accompanying her twin sister at every venue.
Spanish girls Pilar Garrote and Nuria Garrote are identical twins, who are impossible to tell apart from each other. On the field, since they wear different numbers on their shirts, one can identify Nuria and Pilar but off the field, you cannot tell who is Nuria and who is Pilar. Both of them play great football and though Spain’s quarterfinal fate will be decided tonight, the twins have had good league appearances. Pilar contributed by scoring a goal in Spain’s 3-0 victory against New Zealand.
Japanese captain and midfielder, Hina Sugita came to Costa Rica with a huge reputation and she has already proved her credentials by taking the player of the match award in both the league games that japan has played so far. Even in the game against Spain, which Japan won 2-0, Hina had a dominating presence, although she couldn’t score any goal. She led the team in the destruction of Paraguay 10-0 and came out after scoring a hat-trick in that game. The fact that she is playing her second consecutive U-17 World Cup makes her a veteran among other participants. Hina was declared as tournament’s best player in the 2013 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship, held in China during September-October 2013. Her heroic display was largely responsible for Japan winning that tournament.