PNG seek female stars of tomorrow

Despite finishing sixth at the inaugural Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament, Papua New Guinea’s young players will be enriched by the experience gained both on and off the field in Singapore. Women’s football has a surprisingly strong history in PNG with the national team entering the qualifiers for the first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 1991. Since then the national team has competed in numerous OFC Women’s Cup competitions. Despite being the most populace nation within the Oceania Football Confederation, PNG national teams are often handicapped by a highly rural population and related transportation difficulties.

Despite these challenges the team were only edged into fifth place by Trinidad & Tobago on penalties, after losing their group matches against Iran (1-0) and Turkey (4-0) respectively. Australian-based coach Mick Robinson, who doubles as the nation’s U-17 coach, tells of the progress made at the tournament and the difficulties his young side faced in preparation.

How was the tournament from the Papua New Guinea team perspective?The players were out of their comfort zone. Unfortunately there is nothing scheduled until the Pacific Games which is a competition probably more within the players reach. The preparation was very good but not long enough and that showed against the Turkish when we weren’t really competitive.

Did the team grow over the course of the tournament?We saved out best game until last (against Trinidad and Tobago). It proved difficult for our girls compared to what they are used to. The tournament was very high profile and the occasion was very big but we were very happy with the progress.

How different is this level of football compared to what they are used to at home?Where they play back home they are really allowed to express themselves without discipline. The tactical side of the game is something they are not used to, while technically some of the girls need more work.

What sort of competition do the girls play in at home?They mostly play in school competition. Some of the stronger players compete in a senior local competition. It’s difficult for us but hopefully we can put something in place on the back of the Youth Olympic Games.

What difficulties did you have in getting the team together and preparing?Some of the girls are five or six hours drive away and some of the roads are just dirt tracks. Others have to come through internal flights so it is very hard to get them together as a team. We also have difficulties with paperwork sometimes. Eventually we don’t necessarily take our best 18 players so the logistics make it very difficult to get the players together.

You took a very young squad to the Oceania U-17 tournament last year winning one match and losing two...We took a young side with 14s and 15s playing in that U-17 tournament. We lost 11 of those players but the girls that went to the 17s (and played in Singapore) went very well. We could have taken a 17s team last year and probably been more competitive but we wanted to take a young side as preparation for the Youth Olympic Games.

The senior team are now preparing for the FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers next month in New Zealand. Can some of the players step up to the senior team?Maybe one or two can make the step-up. We have one player from the 17s, Sandra Birum, training with the senior side.

Women’s football in PNG has a long history, so is there a strong women’s football culture in the country?Most definitely. I think it will get bigger all the time like women’s football everywhere across the world, being such a fast growing sport. There is high participation but it is mostly social. Now we need to develop the young players as the country has lots of natural talent.