Sunday 20 March 2022, 05:00

Brazil on top as South American trio seal India spots

  • The CONMEBOL U-17 Women’s Championship took place in Montevideo, Uruguay from 1-19 March

  • Brazil won all their matches to claim the title and a place at India 2022

  • Joining them there will be runners-up Colombia and third-placed Chile

Montevideo was the venue for 18 exciting days of football action as it hosted the CONMEBOL U-17 Women’s Championship.

The tournament came to a thrilling conclusion on Saturday 19 March as the last of the three qualifying places for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup™ – to be held in India between 11 and 30 October – were filled. Brazil, Colombia and Chile were the three sides to book their places at the global finals, joining the four other teams that have qualified to date: hosts India, China PR, Japan and New Zealand.

With Africa, the Concacaf Zone and Europe yet to decide their qualifiers, South America’s three representatives can now make their travel plans for a tournament where they will be hoping to spring a surprise and become the first CONMEBOL side to reach an U-17 Women’s World Cup final. Venezuela, who were knocked in their first round in Montevideo, finished fourth at Costa Rica 2014 and Jordan 2016.

Flawless Brazil

Having already made sure of their ticket to India, Brazil capped a perfect qualification campaign with a 1-0 victory over a competitive Colombia side on the final day of the competition. Simone Jatoba’s team were in a league of their own, winning all seven of their matches, scoring an amazing 33 goals and conceding not once across 630 minutes of football. Though Las Cafeteras posed a bigger threat to them than anyone, Brazil negotiated a tricky fixture with a minimum of fuss. Despite only needing a draw to make sure of the title, the Brazilians went all out for the three points to set the seal on a record-breaking campaign, and were rewarded for their enterprise when Rhaissa came off the bench to score the winner on 76 minutes. Victory secured the Brazilians a fourth continental title to go with the three they won in 2010, 2012 and 2018 and confirmed their status as the U-17 queens of South America, with two more crowns than Venezuela. India 2022 will be Brazil’s sixth appearance at the world finals, with their only absence having come at Costa Rica 2014. Ingrid Aparecida Borges de Moraes, better known as Jhonson, was the competition’s leading scorer with nine goals. The forward plays her club football with Toledo, from the state of Parana, and went into the tournament having signed a contract that will keep her there until 2026. The deal contains a buyout clause set at €500,000 euros for Brazilian clubs and $10,000,000 for foreign outfits. Forming a formidable strike partnership with her was Aline Gomes, who scored six goals, while Dudinha (five goals and five assists) and Carol (who served up a tournament-high six assists) offered valuable support. In defence, meanwhile, Guta and Ana Grazyelle both excelled. Given their stellar talent and ability to churn out quality players, Brazil will be one of the favourites for the World Cup, a competition where they will now have to prove their credentials against the best in the world.

Colombia show their class

Not even a last-day defeat could take the shine off a superb campaign for Carlos Paniagua’s side. That loss to Brazil was their only one of a tournament in which Las Cafeteras scored 20 goals and conceded just the two to come up just short in their bid to add a second continental title to the one they won in Chile in 2008. They will now go forward to their fifth world finals in the category. The star of the Colombian show was Linda Caicedo, who took another step forward on her journey to stardom by displaying all her considerable skills in Uruguay. The talented striker, who won the Colombian title at the age of only 14 with America de Cali in 2019 and then helped Deportivo Cali to championship glory two years later, is enjoying a meteoric rise that seems a long way from over.

Publicly praised by former Argentina international Juan Pablo Sorin for her performances at the 2021 Copa Libertadores Femenina, Caicedo chipped in with five goals and four assists in Uruguay. Tipped to become a global superstar on her emergence in Colombia, she appears to be well on the way to achieving that status and was the spearhead of a side in which Karla Torres, Yesica Munoz and Gabriela Rodriguez also shone.

Chile get their reward

It proved to be a dramatic tournament for Chile, the outcome of which was in doubt until the very end. In writing a new chapter in the history of Chilean women’s football, La Roja had to overcome a number of obstacles, starting in the first round, when they beat Peru and then had to wait for the result of Uruguay’s meeting with Colombia. A win for the hosts would have seen the Chileans go home early. Having negotiated that hurdle, they slumped to an 8-0 defeat to Brazil in their first match in the final phase before going down 3-0 to Colombia. That left La Roja needing to beat Paraguay in their final match to qualify for India 2022, with the Paraguayans enjoying a better goal average after only losing 2-0 to Colombia and 3-0 to Brazil. The suffering did not stop there for Alex Castro’s side, as Paraguay defended with determination in search of the point that would take them to the World Cup. The Chileans could find no way past Araceli Leguizamon as time began to run out on them. But with just six minutes left on the clock and with hopes fading fast, Chile’s faith paid off, with Maite Tapia finally putting them in front. Katerine Cubillos added a second in stoppage time to seal victory. Chile’s qualification for India, which had seemed so unlikely for most of the competition, has secured them a second appearance at the U-17 finals, the first having come in 2010. Playing with character and no little style, the Chileans were led with distinction by captain Catalina Figueroa. The Universidad Catolica defender also represents her country at U-20 level and has already collected her first senior cap.