New Zealand have a strong affinity with the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, with Canada 2014 marking their fifth successive appearance. Their debut at Russia 2006 - a first FIFA women’s tournament appearance for 15 years - saw New Zealand claim 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 denied by an injury-time England equaliser. And although Germany 2010 was a disappointment with three defeats, 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.
The New Zealanders enjoyed only modest preparations for their qualifying campaign, while there were signs of improvement from their Oceanian rivals. The Junior Football Ferns cruised to a 12-0 victory over Vanuatu, before a surprisingly tight 3-1 scoreline against Tonga was followed up a 3-0 win over second-placed Papua New Guinea, securing qualification to the world finals.
The quantity of youth internationals progressing to the senior New Zealand side has been significant in recent years, and coach Aaron McFarland is looking to maintain that development pathway. His squad for the qualifying tournament included 11 players from the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup side, plus five players from this year’s U-17 team. Seven U-20 players were duly rewarded for their performances in Canada 2014 qualifying by earning selection for New Zealand’s senior pool at March’s Algarve Cup.
Ball retention is part of the New Zealander’s philosophy across all their age groups. “One of the main focal points of development is to develop a possession-based game,” said McFarland. “We have players throughout the squad who are comfortable with the ball and can play with good game intelligence.