New Zealand youngsters cruise through Pacific

New Zealand’s progress to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 was rarely in doubt as Oceania’s best-performed nation secured three emphatic victories for a clean sweep of their qualifiers. Faced with a four-nation tournament played over five-days, the Young Football Ferns comfortably qualified for their third successive finals, an event for which they have a strong affinity having hosted the inaugural edition in 2008.

Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea were the other participants with the latter expected to provide the strongest challenge to the heavily favoured home side. And so it proved with the two teams locked on six points heading into Friday’s final day winner-takes-all meeting, only for New Zealand to claim a remarkable 9-0 victory. New Zealand’s successful week continued as the U-20 side qualified for Japan 2012 the following day, with the two qualifying tournaments held concurrently in Auckland.

Mixed experiences for Islanders
Despite a heavy final day defeat Papua New Guinea maintained their status as Oceania’s second team with a second-place finish. It was no easy task though for PNG who battled to one-goal wins against firstly New Caledonia, and then Cook Islands in unfamiliar weather conditions.

Cook Islands, meanwhile, finished the tournament on a high by beating New Caledonia 3-0 to take third and leave Les Cagous with the wooden spoon. The tournament proved a major disappointment for New Caledonia following their senior side only narrowly missing out on winning last year’s Pacific Games title.

Cook Islands, coached by Angela Valamaka, sister of New Zealand’s most capped international Hayley Moorwood, were hamstrung by their squad training in disparate locations prior to the tournament. However, not only did Oceania’s smallest nation claim a final day victory, their goalkeeper Moeroa Nootai was named best No1 of the tournament.

Kiwis on a goalscoring high
New Zealand have a relatively strong record in the brief history of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and coach Paul Temple will be hoping the goalscoring exploits of his team are a sign of their attacking prospects for Azerbaijan. The Young Football Ferns preceded their rout of PNG with 7-0 and 13-1 victories against Cook Islands and New Caledonia respectively.

“If we get a nice draw and a good group then I hope we can do something special over there (in Azerbaijan),” said Temple. “We’ll be playing the best teams in the world and it’s going to be really competitive but we are building and have shown some good football so far, so I really believe in the players and have confidence in them.”

In the goalscoring stakes New Zealand duo Jasmine Pereira and Hannah Carlsen shared the Golden Boot with an impressive six goals apiece, while midfielder Briar Palmer was named player of the tournament. Temple will benefit at the September tournament with Carlsen, utility Megan Lee, plus goalkeeper Lily Alfeld, having all featured in New Zealand’s Trinidad & Tobago 2010 squad.

Temple expressed confidence in his side, although remaining wary of the task which lies ahead. “There are some good signs and we’ve played some good football,” he said. “I think we’ll be a match for anyone on our day. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the players. Everyone that qualifies for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will be among the best teams in the world so it will be very competitive.”