- *OFC qualifiers for FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup to feature six nations *
- *One side will win a ticket to France 2018 *
- *PNG hosted the world tournament late last year *
It is only just over six months since Korea DPR were crowned FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup champions in Papua New Guinea. And once again Oceania is the focus with the first global qualifier for the 2018 edition of the tournament in France to be determined over the coming fortnight in Auckland.
Six nations will line-up at the 2017 OFC U-19 Women’s Championship for a round-robin event which will take place between 11-24 July. Competing are Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga. On offer to the victor is the continent’s lone ticket to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018.
Host nation New Zealand will be warm favourites, with the Kiwis having won all five editions of the tournament since Australia’s departure from the Confederation in 2006.
*PNG’s return to the spotlight *
Much of the focus, however, will be on Papua New Guinea after their historic hosting of the U-20 Women’s World Cup last year. Papua New Guinea may have exited at the group-stage with three hefty losses against Brazil, Sweden and Korea DPR, but there is no doubt women’s football claimed a firm foothold in the Melanesian nation thanks to the team’s fearless showings against three global heavyweights.
Nicollete Ageva’s spectacular goal for PNG against eventual world champions Korea DPR was celebrated far and wide across the nation, and will remain one of the tournament’s enduring memories. Ageva is one of several players who will be able to call upon their World Cup experience over the coming fortnight in New Zealand, along with the likes of midfielder Belinda Giada and goalkeeper Faith Kasiray.
New Zealand are well placed to maintain their continental hegemony, with over half of the squad working together several times a week in recent months under coach Gareth Turnbull. They will also line-up with numerous players who featured in the 2016 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Jordan. The Kiwis were, however, dealt two significant blows with attacking midfielder Lily Bray ruled out with injury, to join jet-heeled senior international Paige Satchell on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, two nations who have serious inroads in men’s football are now hoping to do likewise with their female footballers. New Caledonia, who finished second in the last year’s U-17 Women’s World Cup qualifiers, will be able to call several graduates of their youngest national side.
Fiji will be making their debut in the competition, and with a side also set to participate in next month’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup qualifiers, Oceania’s oldest Pacific Islands’ member have made their intentions clear. Fiji have spent the past eight weeks in camp with Fiji FA president Rajesh Patel stating the local governing body are serious about developing women's football.
* The tournament will again provide a platform for #ENDviolence – a campaign that was heavily promoted during last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. The awareness campaign focuses on changing perceptions towards women and violence in the Pacific region, with the primary aims being to develop respect, understanding and tolerance among girls and boys, women and men and the community as a whole. *