IN what each team hopes will be only a stop on the road to Athens, Greece, the first-ever women’s Olympic qualifying event held by the Confederation of North and Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is taking place in San José and Heredia through the end of next week.
In total, eight teams are competing for the two berths to this summer’s games in Athens.
“This is a historic event,” CONCACAF press officer Steve Torres told The Tico Times. “This is the first time there has been a women’s qualification for the Olympics in our region and it’s the first time that we will send two teams to the Olympics.”
Costa Rica’s male Under-23 National Soccer Team qualified for the Olympics, for the first time since 1984, earlier this month (TT, Feb. 13).
Since the inauguration of women’s soccer as an Olympic event in 1996, the United States has been the only team from the region to compete. The U.S. women received an invitation to play eight years ago and qualified for the Sydney games based on their FIFA World Cup performance in 2000.
BECAUSE of their past Olympic and World Cup performance, the U.S. women are a favorite to qualify. However, with two spots available, Canada and Mexico have a good chance of advancing as well.
Mexico defeated Haiti 5-0 and the United States dominated Trinidad and Tobago 7-0 in the opening games Wednesday at the National Stadium.
Last night at press time, Costa Rica took on Panama in the team’s first game of the tournament. The Ticas will face off against Jamaica tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. at the National Stadium in San José.
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place in Mexico at the same time as the men’s Olympic qualifier.
“Unfortunately, Mexico could not accomodate the women’s competition so it was relocated,” Torres explained.
“WE needed to find a host to stage the women’s Pre-Olympic event and Costa Rica was the first country to ask,” he continued.
“The decision was approved by the executive committee and the dates were modified so it wouldn’t conflict with the men’s competition.”
Although the Costa Rican women’s team failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup, they received entry into the tournament as a result of being the host country.
The Ticas’ last major win came in 2001 at the Central American Games.
In the early rounds, teams are grouped together and face off against each other before advancing to the semifinals, which will take place on March 3 at National Stadium in San José. The final will be played March 5 at Eladio Rosabal Cordero Stadium in Heredia.
Group A consists of Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama, while the United States, Mexico, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago make up Group B.
THE crowd was sparse for the first game, although those in attendance were dedicated soccer fans who had come from around the United States, as well as Mexico and Haiti, to support their teams. Lauren Krueger and Nancy McDaniel came from Arizona to watch the games.
“Nancy wanted to go on vacation and I said I’d come as long as we could plan it for the end of February so we could come to the games,” Krueger said.
Humberto Rojas, from San José, was there Wednesday – even though the Costa Rican team would not compete until the next day.
“I’m just a really big fan of the game,” he said.
“This is an important championship and I want to see the best teams in the Americas – the United States, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica – play,” he added.