- New Zealand win a sixth straight OFC U-19 Women’s Championship title
- Kiwis first team to join hosts France at 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup
- *Oceanian finals blighted by news of Fiji keeper Francine Lockington’s passing *
New Zealand are heading for a seventh successive FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup after cruising to glory with a goal-filled campaign at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship.
This latest continental title, the Junior Football Ferns’ sixth in succession at this level, was secured in some style and sees them become the first team to join hosts France at next year’s global finals. New Zealand racked up five straight wins on home soil, scoring 48 goals en route and conceding just one.
Gareth Turnbull’s side will now head to France confident of making an impact. New Zealand have a record of competing well at the U-20 finals and, after qualifying for the knockout rounds in 2014, beat Ghana last time out only to finish third in an extraordinarily tough section that also included USA and the French.
So, how does their coach feel the current crop of Junior Ferns are equipped to compete? “This is a really talented group,” Turnbull said. “Most of these players have already played on the world stage, so I think we’ll have some real confidence going in to a major event where it’s not the first time for us.”
New Zealand’s campaign in numbers 48 goals scored across just five matches – an average of 9.6 per game* 1 goal conceded and four clean sheets * 6 OFC U-19 Women’s Championship titles in a row
A look at the tournament’s top scorers bears out Turnbull's assertion. Emma Main (11 goals), Sam Tawharu (9) and Hannah Blake (8) all starred at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup last year, while Blake – who grabbed a hat-trick at those finals in Jordan – also went on to appear at the U-20 Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
There had been suggestions that PNG, boosted by their experience of hosting and competing at that global tournament, could threaten the Kiwis’ traditional dominance of these OFC finals. But that challenge never materialised. In fact, it was Fiji who finished second by virtue of winning three of their five matches, with PNG among their victims.
The Fijians’ campaign was all the more laudable as it was blighted by tragedy, with news breaking early in the tournament that first-choice keeper Francine Lockington – who had withdrawn with illness – had passed away. The 17-year-old was a rising star in the continent, having won the Golden Glove at last year’s OFC U-17 Championship and been named Fiji Junior Women’s Footballer of the Year.
Naturally, the news devastated her former team-mates. "Normally our team comes in singing but today they came in crying for Francine," their coach, Saroj Kumar, said after a 2-2 draw with Samoa. "The game was dedicated to Francine. All the games that we play from today are for Francine.”
*Final standings *New Zealand: 15 points
Fiji: 10 points
Papua New Guinea: 7 points
New Caledonia: 6 points
Samoa: 3 points
Tonga: 1 point