New Zealand enjoys an ever-growing affinity with the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, with Papua New Guinea marking their sixth successive appearance. They won through to the knockout stage for the first time at Canada 2014 with two wins in the group stage, thus claiming a new high watermark in the process. Their debut at Russia 2006 - a first FIFA Women’s tournament appearance for 15 years – saw New Zealand secure their maiden point with a draw against a strong Brazil side. Two years later in Chile, they were seconds from creating history as the first male or female New Zealand side to reach the knockout stage of a FIFA tournament, only to be denid by England’s injury-time equaliser. Germany 2010 was a disappointment with successive defeats, however the Junior Football Ferns bounced back at Japan 2012, unluckily missing the quarter-finals despite earning four points, which included a draw against the hosts.
With traditional challengers Papua New Guinea not required to qualify, the New Zealanders breezed through a hugely one-sided qualifying campaign in October 2015. The Junior Football Ferns racked 69 goals to nil in their four wins over Samoa, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and hosts Tonga to advance with ease.
The squad boasts extensive experience at international level, and eight participants in the qualifying tournament were veterans of the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. So too, there are several survivors from Canada 2014, notably Jasmine Pereira and Daisy Cleverley, who also have significant experience with the senior side and were in the squad for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. Young coach Leon Birnie assumed the reins from Aaron McFarland in mid 2015 and undertook an extensive scouting campaign. Papua New Guinea 2016 will be a unique opportunity for New Zealand to play on the world stage in their own continent – with the tournament being the first at this level to be played in Oceania.