On Thursday morning, tournament organizers staged a press conference at the new site of the Panamanian Football Federation (FEPAFUT), across the street from the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, where group stage matches, plus the semifinals and final, will take place.
The message was clear: Panama is ready to host the regional finals, and organizers are determined to assure that every aspect of the regional tournament comes off perfectly.
"As a Federation, we're committed to the process of hosting the tournament," said Jorge Aued, General Secretary of FEPAFUT and the Executive Director of the U-17 tournament. "We've been working for many months with a very committed team to achieve our objectives. We've designed the plan and we're ready to execute it."
The initial phases of the tournament will be divided between Rommel Fernandez, the usual home of the full Panamanian national team, and the Estadio Agustin "Muquita" Sanchez in nearby La Chorrera, where the home team will play its group stage matches.
"Panama has accomplished its goals in the organization of the event," said Ramon Cardoze, Vice President of FEPAFUT. "We're ready to host the twelve teams; the stadiums as well, Rommel Fernandez and Muquita Sanchez. The idea is that the youth teams in the area also have their tournament, with the same standards, keeping in mind that they're representing their respective countries."
The host has been placed in Group A, and will open its participation in the competition Saturday evening against Jamaica, in a three-team group completed by Barbados. Group B rivals Canada and Trinidad & Tobago face-off in the tournament opener earlier in the evening.
In the capital, games begin on Sunday with a doubleheader in Groups C and D. The United States, the defending regional champion, takes on Haiti in a group rounded out by Guatemala. In the nightcap, defending U-17 world champion Mexico faces Cuba in Group D, which also includes Honduras.
"I'd like to congratulate the Panamanian Football Federation for the effort they are putting into organizing this important event for CONCACAF," said CONCACAF Executive Committee member Ariel Alvarado. "We're coming off an under-20 tournament in Puebla that was very successful, so the organizers have the bar set very high. The organizers here have the enthusiasm to do the same.
"This tournament begins the national team process for many players, who are going to have the chance to represent their countries and qualify for a World Cup. As we say here, we'll see tomorrow's stars, today."
The current edition of the regional U-17 Championship will be the second to feature a twelve-team format in the championship round. Two countries from each of the four groups will advance to the quarterfinal round, where they will have the opportunity to play for one of the four regional berths on offer for the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.