Adu, U-17s face Spain, Korea, Sierra Leone in World CupPosted: Wednesday June 11, 2003 2:06 PM
HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- The United States and 13-year-old wonder boy Freddy Adu will face a familiar foe in South Korea in the first round of the Under-17 World Cup.
The Americans were grouped with Spain, South Korea and Sierra Leone in Wednesday's draw.
"Any team you draw in your group during a world championship is going to give you a challenge," said U.S. 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."
Their first-round games in the championships will be in Lahti, 65 miles northeast of the capital, Helsinki. Lahti has hosted several World Nordic Ski Championships and is also the venue of annual World Cup cross-country and ski jumping competition.
The U.S. is the only nation to compete in all 10 world championships at this age group. Led by Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, the U.S. lost the bronze-medal game to Ghana on penalty kicks in the 1999 tournament in Australia. It had a disappointing outing two years later in Trinidad and Tobago.
"Now we are hoping to do a little better than two years ago," said coach John Ellinger. "We came in 14th or so. We thought we had a good team, but then came Sept. 11 and it had a major impact on the team."
France and Nigeria, two of the teams the United States faced two years ago, eventually made the final, with France emerging as winner.
"We meet very respectable teams this time," Ellinger said. "Sierra Leone was in the qualifying final in Africa, Spain in the final in Europe, and South Korea won the Asian tournament."
In preparing for the tournament, Ellinger wants to match up against opposition similar to the teams they'll face.
Recently, the United States lost 3-0 to South Korea.
"We played the first half 0-0 and gave up three in the second half. It showed what we have to do, clean some things up in the defense," he said. "One year ago we met Portugal, which is similar to playing Spain, and we'll try to get a game against an African team, if possible."
That would give the Americans a taste of what to expect from Sierra Leone, a surprise in African qualifying. The U.S. team also will have warmup games against an overage Canadian squad, an Australian team and two matches in England.
"We are pretty close to the final team, we know our top 23 players," Ellinger said. "Then it's the matter of picking the 18."
Some of the players he's already singled out include midfielder Adu, along with Guillermo "Memo" Gonzalez, a forward with Los Angeles Galaxy; Eddy Gavin, a midfielder with the MetroStars; and central defender Jonathan Spector, in the junior ranks with Manchester United.
"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 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 in March. The U.S. secured a ticket to the championships with a 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 a 7-3-3 record in international matches this year (31 goals for, 12 against).
The U.S. squad is currently 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.
Platini's picks: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, PortugalSoccer great Michel Platini rated two South American and two European teams as the co-favorites after Wednesday's draw for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Finland in August.
"Argentina, Spain, Portugal and Brazil appears to be the strongest -- Spain because they beat France in the qualifying," said Platini, a member of FIFA's executive committee.
He expected upset results in the 16-nation event from Aug. 13-30.
"There are better chances for surprises in this young age group," Platini said. "Ten years ago, nobody could have thought that Yemen, Sierra Leone and Finland could play for the title, and maybe even Liechtenstein can do so in the future."
He cited FIFA's work in helping to develop younger talent, and building centers of excellence for young players.
Among the bigger surprises at previous under-17 championships were Saudi Arabia winning in 1989, and Burkina Faso's third place in 2001. Oman (1995), Qatar (1991) and Bahrain (1989) all reached, but lost, bronze-medal games.
France, winner of the last tournament in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, didn't qualify after losing to Spain. Nigeria, runners-up last time, and Argentina, which placed fourth, were drawn in the same group.
The top two teams from the four groups advance to the quarterfinals. Group A based in Helsinki will be the first in a FIFA final competition to play on an artificial pitch.
Brazil has the best record at the event with two wins, a silver and a bronze. Nigeria has also won the title twice. Argentina has two bronzes.
The FIFA tournament final will be the first ever played on an artificial surface as Toolo Stadium was recently outfitted with the FieldTurf due to Finland's cold climates, which make it difficult to grow natural grass.
FIRST ROUND GROUP A Match Date Teams Venue ET 1 Aug. 13 Finland vs. China Helsinki 10:30 a.m. 2 Aug. 13 Mexico vs. Columbia Helsinki 1 p.m. 11 Aug. 16 China vs. Columbia 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 Columbia vs. Finland Helsinki 1 p.m. GROUP B 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. GROUP C 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. GROUP D 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. QUARTERFINALS 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. 25 1st D vs. 2nd C Tampere 11 a.m. SEMIFINALS 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. THIRD PLACE Match Date Teams Venue ET 31 Aug. 30 L29 vs. L30 Helsinki 8 a.m. FINAL Match Date Teams Venue ET 32 Aug. 30 W29 vs. W30 Helsinki 11 a.m.