New Zealand’s youngest female footballers cantered to the Oceania crown, winning their way into the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup for the first time. The Young Football Ferns played in the inaugural world tournament two years ago though on that occasion they appeared as hosts.
The abbreviated four-nation Oceania championship was played in Auckland and also featured Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. With the teams to play each other just once, and only the winner to qualify for Trinidad and Tobago, there was little margin for error.
Playing in home conditions, the New Zealanders got of to a dream start with a comfortable 10-0 win against Solomon Islands, though the visitors held their opponent to just a two-goal margin on 45 minutes. Next up were Papua New Guinea who have show good form in the women’s game at senior level on a number of occasions. However the New Zealanders again dominated, this time from the opening whistle, scoring four goals inside the first 12 minutes leading to a 9-0 victory.
The result meant New Zealand had a foot in the September tournament needing just a point against winless Tonga in the final match. The result proved never to be in doubt as the home side scored nine goals in each half for an 18-0 scoreline.
New Zealand coach Dave Edmondson said he was very satisfied with his side’s performance and delighted to qualify but fully aware that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup would be a much tougher examination of his side’s credentials.
“When you hear those names (of the teams which have qualified) you know there is some tough opposition there and a lot of hard work now for those girls to go there and compete well,” he said.
“In training we have to step up. We were really fit coming into this but we’ve got to maintain that and seek out tough matches for ourselves whether it’s against overseas opposition or teams locally.”
The inaugural Oceania U-17 Women’s Championship proved a tough initiation for the Island nations given New Zealand’s dominance. With most players featuring in international football for the first time, and indeed many travelling overseas for the first time, the tournament was very much about development.
Solomon Islands captain Veronica Tolivaka showed signs that she is one player that will benefit from the experience with perhaps a big future in the game. After the opening loss to New Zealand, the Solomon Islanders bounced back with a 5-0 win against Tonga with Tolivaka leading the way from midfield.
The result meant the Solomons led Papua New Guinea going into the final match by the narrowest of margins with an equal goal difference but having scored more goals than the rivals. A winner deep into injury time from Joy Timo sealed second as the team from the Melanesian archipelago edged out PNG with Tonga condemned to fourth spot.
New Zealand striker Hannah Wong stole the show on the third and final day with six goals against Tonga to claim top goalscorer for the tournament with eight in total. The Kiwis also took home the Fair Play award while Solomon Islands goalkeeper Alice Patrick was honoured with the Golden Glove Award.