- *New Zealand retain continental U-16 women’s crown with room to spare *
- *Eight nations lined up chasing Oceania’s lone spot to Uruguay 2018 *
- *The Kiwis have a perfect appearance record at the U-17 Women’s World Cup *
The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup holds a special place in New Zealand football and the nation’s close affinity with the tournament will continue when the 2018 edition takes place in Uruguay.
New Zealand hosted the maiden tournament back in 2008 – the first female FIFA tournament to be held in Oceania. That tournament also saw the Kiwis secure their maiden victory in a FIFA women's competition with a 3-1 win against Colombia.
The Young Football Ferns will now have the opportunity to write another chapter in their U-17 Women’s World Cup story next year after securing their sixth straight appearance in FIFA’s youngest female World Cup. They secured passage in emphatic fashion with a dominant showing over the past fortnight at the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Apia, Samoa.
Eight nations took to the field in the small Polynesian nation, with the late withdrawal of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea meaning the line-up was smaller than two years ago. The latter were notable absentees, having featured in the past two finals, as well as hosting last year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. All five Polynesian nations featured – American Samoa, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and the hosts. Fiji, New Caledonia and the Young Football Ferns completed the field.
Melanesian pair Fiji and New Caledonia made a strong impression to underline their recent development in women’s football. But while Fiji topped their group with an undefeated run in the group stage, New Caledonia had their measure with an entertaining 4-2 semi-final win to reach their maiden final in this tournament.
But the recurring theme in Apia was the dominance of the New Zealanders. Leon Birnie’s side were imperious throughout the fortnight, racking up 47 goals in five matches and conceding just once. A stunning 17-1 win over Tahiti was followed by 7-0 and 8-0 victories against New Caledonia and Samoa respectively. A one-sided 9-0 semi-final win over Cook Islands set up another meeting against New Caledonia with a World Cup berth on the line.
New Zealand eventually ran out 6-0 victors, with Arabella Maynard securing a memorable four-goal haul. The Kiwis, however, didn’t have it all their own way. Just a single goal separated the two teams in Friday’s final and Birnie paid tribute to the New Caledonians. “It was a challenge out there especially in the first half,” he said. “New Caledonia played really well and made it really hard for us, as we were lucky to not concede and be at 1-1.”
New Zealand’s Maya Hahn was named the tournament’s best player, while team-mate Kelli Brown nabbed the Golden Boot for a remarkable 14-goal haul. Significant contributions in front of goal also came from Maggie Jenkins (9), Maynard (7) and Grace Wisnewski (6).
Now the challenge for this generation to is to be the first New Zealand side to reach the knockout stage at the U-17 Women’s World Cup. “If I look back at our first game [of the qualifiers], where we had plenty to work on, to where we are now, then we have seen a big improvement,” added Birnie, who coached New Zealand on the world stage at Papua New Guinea 2016.
“We have 12-13 months now and we have to keep moving forward and improving and, if we do, that we will be in a good space come World Cup time."