OFC: Papua New Guinea made their FIFA U-20 World Cup debut in 2016 and they’re hungry for another taste of the world stage, but with defending regional champions New Zealand first up at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship tomorrow they’ll have their work cut out for them.
Leading a side bursting with talent and experience, New Zealand coach Gareth Turnbull is feeling confident about the opening match despite the limited time his side has had to prepare together.
“The group came together two days ago, so we’ve effectively had three training sessions,” he said.
“They came into camp a little bit quiet and subdued but as soon as we took to the pitch on Saturday afternoon they were buzzing. Everyone’s in good form - playing regularly with their club sides here - so we’re looking forward to getting started.
“All bar two of our group have represented our country at an age group level, which is awesome to have under our belts. We’ll just go out and focus on what we can do and control, and play our style of football. Hopefully that will be good enough on the day.”
Papua New Guinea have gained confidence following their world cup debut on home soil and are determined to make a return at France 2018.
Despite the odds being in New Zealand’s favour, Papua New Guinea coach Rachel Wadunah is feeling confident about challenging the defending champions.
“As an opener I know it will be very challenging for us, especially having only arrived in Auckland yesterday, but I’m pretty confident my girls are ready for the game,” she said.
“I know New Zealand are a favourite but my girls are looking forward to the game tomorrow.
“The atmosphere in the team has been good. They are all psyched up and they keep telling me how excited they are to play New Zealand.”
Following the showdown between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea at 10am, Fiji will be making their competition debut when they face Tonga at 12:30pm.
Well-aware of Tonga’s strong development in women’s football, Fiji coach Saroj Kumar is preparing for a tough opening game, and without 2016 OFC U-17 Women’s Championship Golden Glove Francine Lockington between the posts, the challenge for Fiji will be even greater.
“Our trainings were going very well but we were hugely affected by the loss of Francine who is still in the hospital and we are still praying for her to get well,” Kumar said.
“That has really been a big blow for us, losing our first goalkeeper but nevertheless we’ll try do well in the tournament.”
Fiji’s lack of experience could prove an advantage tomorrow however Tonga coach Christian Koaneti isn’t feeling hindered by the unpredictability of his opponent as he tries to prepare his side for their clash with the debutants.
“I’m pretty confident with how the team has been training so far. We’ve just finished a warm-up match against Macleans College and the result turned out good but the fact that I haven’t seen Fiji play, It would be a lie if I told you that I’m fully confident for tomorrow,” he said.
“But the way we’ve trained so far over this past week, I have faith that the girls will achieve what is expected of them.”
The first day of the regional competition will wrap up with 2015 runners-up Samoa facing New Caledonia at 3pm, and although Samoa coach Martin Tamasese believes the match will be close, he has full faith in his side securing three points.
“I think we play a similar style to New Caledonia but I saw all our girls training together yesterday and there’s a big push up when they all join together,” he said.
“We were the silver medallists in 2015 so we want to be competitive this year and we want to improve from that.”
After suffering heavy defeats in the last edition of the competition, New Caledonia coach Kamali Fitialeata is eager for redemption but is also well-aware that taking on 2015’s runners-up in their opening match will be a true test of their development over the past two years.
“We want to do better than last time. We were really undone by New Zealand last time and our goal is to do much better than that this time,” he said.
“I know Samoa are a nation under development in terms of women's football but I don't know much about this team.
“Tomorrow we'll be aiming to give the best that we can.”