Papua New Guinea have long been queens of their region, winning all three editions of the Pacific Games held to date. Indeed women’s football has a surprisingly strong history in the Melanesian nation, which is located across the Torres Strait from the northern tip of Australia.
PNG competed in qualifiers for the very first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 1991, and have since been a regular fixture in Oceania Football Confederation women’s tournaments. Though the most populated nation within OFC, PNG is also highly ruralised, and its mountainous terrain provides its own difficulties, not least of all in terms of co-ordinating a structured and cohesive football program.
A narrow 2-0 defeat against New Zealand in Oceania qualifying for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup became a seven-goal margin four years later. It was time to start bridging the gap, and PNG football officials are intent on creating solid foundations for future growth.
Traditionally there have been regional and national senior competitions, but little in place for younger players. Using funding and equipment provided by FIFA, two regional youth leagues were created this year with the aim of a national final taking place at the conclusion. And the expansion doesn’t end there, with the league set to grow by two regions per year.
Through the FIFA festivals programme, over 1,000 girls around the country have participated in organised football this year, with one more event to take place at the end of the FIFA Coaching Course during November.
"We like to encourage our young girls to help them to strengthen their weaknesses and encourage them to play football, not only as a social game but to build pathways for their future in football to represent the country one day," said PNGFA Senior Vice President Ms Linda Wonuhali, who is also a member of the FIFA Committee for Women's Football and the FIFA Women's World Cup.
Senior stars set to shine
Of course, the aims of such development programs are many and varied. Participation in a healthy and social pursuit such as football are key elements. So too, is the desire to create the next generation of elite senior players.
The PNG Football Association have, with the support of FIFA and OFC, set up a Centre of Excellence to develop talented U-17 players, and provided training camps for the respective national teams. 2015 will see Papua New Guinea host the multi-sport Pacific Games for the first time in 24 years.
National team coach Frederica Sakette is perfectly positioned to oversee the nation’s talent production line in her dual role as the PNGFA women’s development officer. The first of many squad camps have already been conducted in what will be a lengthy build-up for the national team heading into the quadrennial event.
And if thorough planning, mixed with a good dose of enthusiasm, counts for anything then Papua New Guinea women’s football is indeed on the road to success.