New Zealand’s affinity with the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup is set to continue this year in Jordan following a highly successful Oceania campaign in the Cook Islands. The Kiwis hosted the inaugural edition of the global tournament in 2008, and they will be one of the few nations to have featured in all five editions of the event when Jordan 2016 kicks-off in September.
While their qualification record over that period is impeccable, so too there was perfection for the Young Football Ferns over all 11 days of the continental event held on the main island of Rarotonga. New Zealand won all five games, posting a remarkable tally of 55 goals, while at the other end their goal remained unbreached. An 8-0 win in Saturday's final against Papua New Guinea merely served to emphasise New Zealand’s supremacy.
PNG maintain status
While the spotlight was once again grabbed by New Zealand, there were major positives in other areas as women’s football continues to develop across the Pacific. Two years ago no qualifying competition was held, while the two other editions of the tournament saw just four teams take part. This time eight nations featured, including debutants Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa. It was also the first OFC U-17 Women’s Championship to be held outside New Zealand.
Once again Papua New Guinea – hosts of this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – underlined their status as Oceania’s second women’s football nation. PNG U-20 coach Lisa Cole will undoubtedly look to this group to strengthen her side when they welcome the world later this year. Chief among those players will be Belinda Giada who already has enjoyed a taste of senior team action at last year’s Pacific Games. Giada was the early pacesetter over the past week for the tournament’s Golden Boot standings, before finishing with eight goals to be the highest placed non-New Zealander.
PNG defied a tough travel schedule – they only arrived five hours before the first game – to excel once again. They won all four matches, before coming undone by a rampant New Zealand in the final. There were positives too for Fiji who finished third, and also had Francine Lockington named goalkeeper of the tournament. New Caledonia also prospered with the Melanesians displaying yet more positives signs of an upward trend in women’s football, after reaching the final in the past two Pacific Games.
Kiwis look to future
For New Zealand, the primary aim was of course qualification for Jordan 2016. However, the age-group is also an important cog in a concerted effort to produce the next generation of talent. To this end, most of the squad featured together in the most recent edition of the nation’s national league, competing as the NZF Development Squad. The cohesion among the group and, indeed, subsequent results, was firm evidence of the squad’s ability.
On the field, New Zealand rarely looked like conceding. But it was at the other end where the statistics were most startling. The team tallied 36 goals across their group matches, and they added a further 19 in two further outings. Leading the charge was striker Hannah Blake who nabbed 14 goals, including a hat-trick in the final.
Not that New Zealand had it all their own way in the decider, with the deadlock remaining until around the half-hour mark before the floodgates opened in the second half.
“We had our goals we wanted to achieve in the final, and we did that against a pretty determined Papua New Guinea side who came out very strong defensively, and also threatened in attack,” said New Zealand coach Gareth Turnbull. “I’m really proud of the way the girls handled themselves at this tournament, and I’m now looking forward to the next stage of this journey.”