New Zealand’s vastly experienced U-20 women’s team will be looking to conclude a hectic month of international action in Oceania by becoming the latest side from their nation to book passage to the world stage.
The continent’s qualifying tournament for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 will take place over five days this week, with the final round of matches scheduled for Saturday. Concluding a day earlier at the same venue in Auckland will be the U-17 equivalent with passage to Azerbaijan 2012 on the line, as the Kiwis seek to follow their recent success in winning through to the London Olympic Games in both the men's and women’s tournaments.
Seeking to halt New Zealand’s dominance will be Samoa, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea, with the latter pair also represented in the U-17 tournament. Historically, the odds are stacked against the challengers, with New Zealand having not missed a women’s world tournament since Australia’s move to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
The four sides will play each other once over three matchdays, with the group winner to represent Oceania this coming August and September in Japan. As always, Papua New Guinea will be considered the team most likely to break New Zealand’s stranglehold on women’s football in Oceania. At senior level PNG qualified for the recent London 2012 Oceania play-off, as well as claiming a third successive Pacific Games title last year. Their opening-day meeting with New Zealand on Tuesday will therefore likely go a long way towards deciding the continental champion.
PNG coach Max Foster will look to several key players for leadership, with midfielder Sandra Birum having three senior tournaments already on her resume, including the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, Pacific Games and more recently the Olympic qualifiers. Captain Miriam Louma has also featured for the national team and will be a key figure in defence.
New Caledonia have competed in this tournament only once before, in 2006, failing to post a win from their three matches. However, the female game in New Caledonia is on the crest of a wave after the exploits of the senior national team, who finished runners-up as hosts of the Pacific Games last September. Coach Matthieu Delcroix will have the services of five players – Claire Kaemo, Charlotte Pelletier, Audrey Sinem, Kim Maguire and Aurelie Lalie – from that squad at his disposal.
Strong squad at hand for hosts
Aaron McFarland’s New Zealand side are aiming to qualify for their fourth consecutive FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, and they certainly have the requisite experience needed to complete the job. No less than six of the Junior Football Ferns have been involved in the set-up of the senior national team. Indeed, several – namely Katie Bowen, Hannah Wilkinson and Rosie White – are prominent members of the senior team set-up and were all involved in the recent Olympic qualifying success over Papua New Guinea, as was midfielder Holly Patterson.
The undoubted star is prolific striker White, who has already appeared at four global tournaments, including last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™. The Aucklander scored hat-tricks at two youth FIFA World Cups in 2008 to earn the Oceania women’s player of the year title. All this despite White having yet celebrated her nineteenth birthday.
“It’s great to have this sort of experience in the team, said McFarland of his 20-strong squad. “And if we book a place at the U-20 World Cup we’ll likely have players coming straight off the back of an Olympic campaign. The squad is already pretty well integrated with the locally based portion of the senior squad and we hope that integration will help us develop more of this squad into players that can step up at the very highest level.”