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Canada to face three teams with pedigree at FIFA U-17 World Cup in Indonesia

Canada Soccer Canada Soccer - The Canadian Press

ZURICH — Canada has been drawn with Spain, Mali and Uzbekistan at the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year in Indonesia.

Group B comes with no shortage of pedigree. Spain has finished runner-up at the U-17 men's competition four times (1991, 2003, 2007 and 2017) while Mali was beaten by Nigeria in the 2015 final. Uzbekistan made the quarterfinals in 2011.

Uzbekistan was originally drawn in Group A but was shifted to Canada's group because it comes from the same confederation as host Indonesia.

The young Canadians have been to seven of the past 18 men's U-17 World Cups, hosting the event in 1987. They have never made it out of the group stage.

The 2021 edition of the tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic.

"This tournament plays a crucial developmental role because it provides the next generation of footballers with a first opportunity to experience the global stage," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a taped message. "It is a platform for inspiring stars and '23 will be no exception."

The 24-country competition runs Nov. 10 to Dec. 2 across four host cities: Surabaya, Surakarta, Jakarta and Bandung.

The top two countries in each of the six groups, along with the four best third-placed teams, reach the knockout phase.

Canada qualified by reaching the final four of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in February in Guatemala, losing 2-0 to the eventual runner-up Americans in the semifinal. Mexico won the CONCACAF crown, with Panama also qualifying for the FIFA showcase.

Canada finished second to the U.S. in its group at the CONCACAF tournament, beating Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 and Barbados 2-0 before falling 1-0 to the Americans.

The Canadians then blanked Haiti and Puerto Rico by 3-0 scores to qualify for the FIFA championship.

Kyler Vojvodic, a forward in the Vancouver Whitecaps system, led Canada in Guatemala with three goals. Antoine N’Diaye, a midfielder from CF Montreal's academy ranks, scored two goals.

The Canadian roster in February drew heavily from the academies of the three Canadian MLS teams with eight from the Toronto FC system and four each from those of Montreal and Vancouver.

One of the Montreal players was Alessandro Biello, son of Canadian senior assistant coach Mauro Biello.

Centre back Lazar Stefanovic has since made his first-team debut with TFC.

Friday's draw was held at FIFA's headquarters with Jaime Yarza, director of FIFA tournaments, leading the way and former players Stephen Appiah and Julio Cesar acting as assistants.

Appiah, as a 14-year-old, helped Ghana lift the trophy at the 1995 tournament in Ecuador. Cesar, whose club career included a stint with Toronto FC, was a runner-up with Brazil as a 15-year-old goalkeeper at the same tournament.

From 2025, both the U-17 men's and women's World Cups will be held every year instead of every other year.

Group A: Indonesia, Ecuador, Panama, Morocco.

Group B: Spain, Canada, Mali, Uzbekistan.

Group C: Brazil, Iran, New Caledonia, England.

Group D: Japan, Poland, Argentina, Senegal.

Group E: France, Burkina Faso, South Korea, U.S.

Group F: Mexico, Germany, Venezuela, New Zealand.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023