Ambitious Kiwis head Oceania quartet

New Zealand, as expected, were crowned Oceania queens once more on Wednesday, with passage to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ the decorated reward on offer. For the Football Ferns it was their third successive Oceania title, and fifth overall. It also secures their passage to the world stage for their third successive time.

The four-nation five-day tournament took place in the remote Papua New Guinea province of East New Britain. Harbouring dreams of usurping New Zealand from their place at the top of the continental apex were Cook Islands, Tonga and, of course, host nation Papua New Guinea.

PNG challenge Three wins from as many starts, 30 goals scored and none conceded. It would seem New Zealand’s retention of the Oceania crown was as straight forward as possible. Huge wins over the Polynesian duo were, as expected, one-side affairs.

Papua New Guinea, however, were a far different proposition. The pair met on Monday in what was always likely to determine the outcome of top position, and the hosts pushed the No19 world-ranked nation all the way. It wasn’t until just on the hour mark that New Zealand finally made the breakthrough via an unlikely goalscorer in defender Rebekah Stott, and they couldn’t rest easy until Amber Hearn netted a second with 20 minutes remaining, with a third goal sealing the contest.

The result left PNG consigned to second place for the third successive time, despite a valiant effort and a condensed preparation. Their young starlet Meagen Gunemba – the 2014 OFC U-20 Championship Golden Ball winner – displayed her talent to local fans with a four-goal haul. Meanwhile, Cook Islands edged into third ahead of Tonga on goal difference to earn Polynesian bragging rights, despite a 1-1 draw between the pair.

In the OFC Women’s Nations Cup individual awards New Zealand No9 Hearn secured the Golden Boot with seven goals. The Golden Ball for most outstanding player of the tournament went to fellow New Zealand forward Rosie White, while stand-out goalkeeper Fidelma Watpore of PNG was named the tournament’s best shotstopper.

Also notable milestones were a 100th cap for Football Ferns skipper Abby Erceg, the new first New Zealander, male or female, to achieve the feat. At the other end of the scale were Daisy Cleverley and Jasmine Pereira who both made senior debuts.

Canada dreaming New Zealand’s improvement over the past decade has been significant, culminating in landmark qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games quarter-finals. Having now safely navigated through Oceania’s sometimes choppy waters, the Football Ferns can set their aims on Canada 2015.

Matches against top-ranked European opposition await next month as New Zealand face up to France and Norway. It will concluded a massive year featuring 16 matches, meaning the Kiwis are likely to be as well prepared as any of the 24 nations at Canada 2015.

Coach Tony Readings is mindful of the need for his side to be equipped with the necessary experience if they are to make an impression in Canada. “We’re really excited and the players are raring to go with a couple of big games coming up next month,” said Readings. “We can’t wait for them to roll around so we can get started on our preparation.

“We got draws (previously) with Japan and USA, we’ve beaten Brazil and drew with them twice recently and what we’ve shown is that we can consistently compete with those teams and at the World Cup you need to. We’ve proved we can do it and we need to do as much as we can between now and the World Cup to keep improving the team because we’ve moved a lot closer to the best teams in the world, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential in our team and we’ll be working over the next seven months to realise that.”