New Zealand proved themselves queens of Oceania in the most emphatic fashion en route to claiming a berth at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. A one-sided demolition of Papua New Guinea in the final earned the Football Ferns successive qualifications for the first time, with their only other appearance being at the inaugural tournament in 1991.
The women of Papua New Guinea once again confirmed their status as Oceania’s best island nation, but the gap between them and the chasing pack appears to be narrowing. Cook Islands provided the shock of the tournament with a third-placed finish, while Solomon Islands secured fourth. FIFA.com looks back at the ten-day competition which saw the New Zealanders become the ninth nation to secure their ticket to Germany 2011.
New Zealand prove unstoppable
Playing on home turf in Auckland, the New Zealanders showed their intent on day one, being well on the way to victory inside the opening half-hour against Vanuatu before running out 14-0 victors. The Kiwis then eased to further comfortable group wins against Cook Islands and Tahiti. The one-sided nature of their matches continued in the semi-final with an 8-0 winning scoreline recorded against the Solomons.
Reigning South Pacific Games champions Papua New Guinea would have harboured high hopes of running the New Zealanders close in the final. PNG topped their group with wins against Solomon Islands, Tonga and Fiji. Two years ago the Kiwis laboured to a hard-fought 2-0 victory over PNG in qualifying for the Beijing Olympic Football Tournament but the contrast with that match in Port Moresby was marked.
New Zealand were three goals to the good inside 18 minutes with the match effectively over as a contest by half-time as the home side held a six-goal advantage. Teenager striking sensation Rosie White notched another notable entry on her CV, with the 2009 OFC Women’s Player of the Year bagging four goals to take her tournament tally to seven. Sarah Gregorius hit the same amount of goals amid the 50 the Kiwis scored without reply in their five matches. The goalscoring crown though was collected by striker Amber Hearn who, playing in her home city, enjoyed a tournament to remember with a dozen goals.
While the home side confirmed their status as the regional superpower it was a youthful Cook Islands side that stunned the eight-nation tournament by finishing third. The tiny remote archipelago at the eastern end of the Oceania confederation became the first team from their country to pick up a medal at an international tournament. After group wins over Tahiti and Vanuatu, the Cook Islanders narrowly lost their semi-final to a lone strike from PNG’s Zeen Limbai. They went on to earn bronze with a 2-0 win against Solomon Islands with goals from captain Mama Henry and striker Regina Mustonen.
Kiwis build for breakthrough showing
While the nature of their qualification suggests the New Zealanders were rarely troubled there is little doubt John Herdman’s charges are a team that are on the up. The Kiwis have yet to collect a point in their two previous showings on the world stage but recent performances at youth level are reason for encouragement, as is their ever increasing competitiveness against the world elite. The current Football Ferns squad can also count numerous professionals in their ranks, most notably WPS-championship winning defender Ali Riley of FC Gold Pride.
The vastly different scoreline in the Oceania final compared to 2008 is another sure-fire indicator of the New Zealand team’s recent growth. “We’ve been working hard for this for two years and they just put their foot to the floor from the first minute and really punished Papua New Guinea,” said Herdman after securing qualification for Germany 2011. “We weren’t sure how it would go because Papua New Guinea have really pushed on over the last couple of years but so have we. We play a much better brand of football now.”
Four-goal hero White was delighted about the manner in which her team secured their FIFA Women's World Cup spot. “We’ve done it in style,” said White, who has already appeared at three junior FIFA Women's World Cups. “The World Cup is the biggest women’s event in the world so you can’t really explain what it feels like to be there.”