Fresh Pacific contenders emerge as New Zealand retain crown

  • Refreshed New Zealand emphatically retain Oceanian title

  • Football Ferns win passage to France 2019 and Tokyo 2020

  • Fiji and New Caledonia provide evidence of enhanced competition in the Pacific

New Zealand claimed their fourth successive OFC Women’s Nations Cup crown in imperious fashion on Saturday to win a ticket to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. The continental crown also shored up a spot at the 12-team Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 to cap a highly fruitful fortnight for the Kiwis.

While the name of the gold-medal winners remain unaltered, there were significant moves further down the pecking order. Preliminary-round qualifiers Fiji defied the history books to reach the final, while hosts fourth-placed New Caledonia achieved their best finish in over three decades.

Perennial Pacific Games champions Papua New Guinea had to settle for third, failing to reach the tournament’s ultimate match for the first time since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

The 2018 edition of the tournament will likely be remembered as a turning point amid enhanced competition among the Pacific island nations. And for the first time all 11 OFC Member Associations took part in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup.

But it is New Zealand, despite missing several key players, who head home the most contented. Saturday’s emphatic 8-0 win in the final capped a perfect tournament for the Football Ferns, who scored an incredible 43 goals without conceding.

That result kick-started a unique day for New Zealand women’s football, capped by the nation’s U-17 team unexpectedly collecting bronze medals later on Saturday at Uruguay 2018.

First - Untouchable Ferns

New Zealand will head to France 2019 with fresh impetus following the debut of highly experienced Tom Sermanni at the helm. After three previous Women’s World Cups with Australia, and a stint as USA coach, Sermanni brings know-how and guile to a New Zealand team seeking to advance past the knockout stage for the first time. The Football Ferns will now look to consolidate in the short term following two coaching changes in recent times.

2018 OFC Women's Nations Cup awards

Golden Ball – Betsy Hassett (New Zealand) Golden Boot – Sarah Gregorius (New Zealand) and Meagen Gunemba (Papua New Guinea) - 8 goals Golden Gloves – Adi Tuwai (Fiji) Fair Play award – New Zealand

Second - Fiji take next step

The undoubted break-out nation was Fiji. Something of a pioneer in the men’s football among their Pacific neighbours, it seems that they have now made the next step in the women’s game. Until this year Fiji had appeared just twice at the Women's Nations Cup since the maiden edition of the tournament in 1983. Their 5-1 come-from-behind semi-final win over PNG will live long in the folklore of Fijian women’s football. Livewire forwards Luisa Tamanitoakula and Trina Davis made a real impact scoring 11 goals between them.

Third – PNG lament lost ground

Featuring a host of graduates from their FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup squad of two years ago, Papua New Guinea failed to make the final for the first time since 2003. The Melanesians topped their group but collapsed in the second half of their semi-final. Coach Peter Gunemba indicated that a lack of preparation proved costly, something he wishes to rectify ahead of next year’s Pacific Games title-defence. Quirkily, it was Gunemba’s daughter Meagen who was the tournament’s joint-top scorer with eight goals in five matches.

What they said

“I’ve been impressed with the opposition we’ve come up against in the sense that we’ve got players that play professionally which makes my life a lot easier, but the teams that we’ve been playing against in this tournament have shown a great amount of heart and character, despite what they’re up against and what the results have been.” New Zealand coach Tom Sermanni

“We imagine that we can only improve football in Fiji - right now it is just only an infant. Our structure is still young, but to see these girls come out and prove themselves here in the region is quite amazing.” Fiji coach Marika Rodu