The 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup kicked off last Saturday in Chile, and the tournament entered its sixteenth edition. The biennial competition showcases the brightest young talent the game has to offer. The tournament boasts a long line of great alumni including Neymar, Mario Gotze, Andres Iniesta, and Landon Donovan.
The Montreal Impact have their links to the tournament through their manager and four players. Mauro Biello, Patrice Bernier, Justin Mapp, Maxime Crepeau, and Romario Williams all partook in the competition throughout the years. Let's take a look at how each fared against the world's best.
The longtime Montreal Impact player, and now interim manager, played for Canada at the 1989 tournament. Although at the time it was known as the U-16 World Championship, FIFA recognizes it as a direct predecessor to the current tournament. Biello, and his fellow teammates, travelled to Scotland where they were drawn in Group C which consisted of Nigeria, Argentina, and China.
The Canadians were easily handled by Nigeria in the first match. The Super Eagles have historically been dominant at this age group, and to date have lifted the trophy four times and finished as runners-up another three times. The African side thumped Canada 4-0 in Dundee, while Biello went unused as a substitute.
The Montreal native would see action in the second match versus China, coming on in the 34th minute for Davor Cepo. The change was made directly after Gao Feng put the Chinese up 1-0. The game would end on that scoreline.
In the third and final group game, the Canadians were paired with Argentina. Contrary to the young Nigerians, who vastly overachieve their senior side's success, Argentina has underachieved at the U-17 level. Biello was in the starting eleven, but was subbed off in the 41st minute after Argentina scored their third goal. The game would finish at 4-1, with Canada's only goal of the tournament being ruled as an own goal by an Argentina defender. La Albiceleste would advance to the knockout stage but fall to Portugal in the quarterfinals. To date, they have yet to reach the final after eleven appearances in the tournament.
Saudi Arabia would go on to win the championship, defeating hosts Scotland 2-2 (5-4pk) before 50,000 people at Hampden Park. The most notable alumni of the 1989 tournament are Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo.
The Montreal Impact skipper competed for Canada in the 1995 tournament held in Ecuador. In the opening match against Oman, Bernier scored for Canada in front of 16,000 fans. The game would end in 2-1 defeat but it was a massive moment for the Brossard, QC native. Canada would go on to lose 3-0 to Germany, and then 2-0 to Brazil, and finished the tournament with zero points. Bernier played the entire ninety minutes in all three games.
Brazil would go on to win the group and advance to the finals, while Oman was the surprise package and made a semi-final appearance. In the final, Ghana would defeat the Brazilians in an entertaining 3-2 championship game.
The Montreal midfielder represented the Stars and Stripes at the 2001 tournament, held in Trinidad and Tobago. To date, the Americans have appeared in the competition a record fifteen times. In 2001, they were grouped with eventual winners France, Nigeria, and Japan.
Mapp started the opening match versus Japan, and was subbed off in the 74th minute during a 1-0 loss. In the second game, Mapp retained his position in the starting eleven, but was subbed off at halftime during a 2-2 match against the French. France would go on to win 5-3. In the final group match, the young Americans fell to Nigeria 2-0. Mapp played 64 minutes before being subbed off as the Americans went winless in their campaign.
Two members of the USA's group, France and Nigeria, would have a rematch in the final. Les Bleuets would blank the African side 3-0 and would go on to lift the trophy for the first time.
The 2001 edition was a star studded one, including now-world class players Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Carlos Tevez, and Javier Mascherano.
The Quebec native and Impact home-grown product represented Canada at the 2011 U-17 World Cup in Mexico. However, it was an unfortunate tournament for Crepeau. In the dying minutes of a 3-0 loss to Uruguay, Crepeau went knee-to-knee with a charging Uruguayan player and was badly injured on the play. The injury would force the Greenfield Park, QC goalkeeper out of the tournament. It was a blow for the Canadians, as Crepeau's performance was described as "outstanding" by a FIFA reporter, despite the 3-0 scoreline.
The Canadians would go on to draw against both England and Rwanda. Although they missed out on the knockout stage, the Canucks boasted a strong performance against an English side that featured Raheem Sterling, and tied the game late on the most bizarre and amazing circumstances.
In the 87th minute, backup goalkeeper Quillan Roberts booted the ball from well within his own half. The long kick took one bounce in the English penalty area and then proceeded to go over the outstretched arms of the opposing keeper. The ball found the back of the net and marked the first ever goal by a goalkeeper in any 11-a-side FIFA competition. It also gave Canada their first point at the U-17 World Cup. The game was played at the Estadio Hidalgo, home of Pachuca in Liga MX.
Williams represented his home country of Jamaica in the same 2011 tournament as Crepeau played in. The Reggae Boyz lost two, before drawing their last game, and were eliminated at the end of the group play. Williams logged the entire maximum of 270 minutes across the three games. The Jamaicans lost the opening match 1-0 to Japan, and then dropped the next one 2-1 at the hands of Argentina. Although held scoreless in the tournament, Williams was consistently a threat around goal, and help his team to a 1-1 draw versus France in their final match.
The 2011 tournament knockout stage saw several notable events, such as England winning a penalty shootout in the round of 16, a seven goal thriller between Germany and Brazil in the third place game, and hosts Mexico lifting the trophy at the Azteca in front of 98,943 fans.
2015 in Chile
The latest edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup is currently ongoing. While Canada did not qualify, the games and young talent on display are very enticing. The Nigerians are once again favourites, and dismantled hosts Chile 5-1 in group play. Germany are also looking formidable and they blanked Argentina 4-0, who may continue their underachievement as they are on the brink of elimination after two games. The French are currently coming off a thrilling 4-3 win over Paraguay, and the Americans lost 4-1 to Chile to send them crashing out.
Keep your eye out for the next Montreal Impact player.