The Group B action gets underway a day later on Thursday 30 September when Papua New Guinea meet Fiji at 1pm and Solomon Islands face Tonga shortly afterwards at 3.30pm.
Here’s a look at how the Group B teams are shaping up before their first games:
Papua New Guinea vs Fiji
This will be an intriguing match-up between two of the sides expected to challenge defending champions New Zealand for the title. Papua New Guinea are the current South Pacific Games champions and their only loss during that 2007 tournament came when Fiji edged them 1-0. Coach Francis Moyap and his side – which includes eight survivors from the Games campaign – will not have forgotten that surprise result and will be out to exact some revenge.
But Fiji will likewise want to prove that win was no fluke and are aiming to build on their historic third-place Games finish, which earned the country its first ever football medal. Coach Ramesh Sharma has turned to experience in his attempt to repeat that feat, choosing veteran Kinisimere Tora to skipper the side. But there is also a healthy dose of untapped talent to look out for in the form of nine uncapped players.
Sharma admits he had one eye on the future in selecting his squad but is keen to point out this doesn’t mean Fiji will be in Auckland just to make up the numbers.
“I think we are in a very tough pool but I can assure everyone that we will be no walkovers. We are using this tournament as a build up to the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia but we will do our best to win the pool,” says Sharma, who stayed in Fiji for an extra couple of days after the death of his father and did not arrive in Auckland until today. That personal tragedy will give him plenty of inspiration to do well and may also provide his players with some added motivation.
“My dad was very supportive towards my involvement in football and was really looking forward to me coaching the national women’s side at this tournament,” says Sharma.
Opposing coach Moyap is aware his side are second favourites to take the title after New Zealand but believes that will count for nothing when the action gets underway.
“That is up to other people to say. I would not agree with it because everybody is here to win and we all have as good a chance as any,” says Moyap.
Solomon Islands vs Tonga
The recent history of these sides suggests Tonga are likely to walk away with all three points but that task may prove a lot tougher than expected. The Tongans have reason to feel confident after coming third at the last OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2007 and runners-up at the South Pacific Games that same year. Coach Kilifi Uele still has plenty of survivors from those campaigns to call on – nine members of the squad were involved in the Nations Cup and most also took part in the Games.
Solomon Islands do not have the same level of experience to draw upon and only one of their goalscorers from the last Nations Cup is still available to coach Timothy Inifiri. That player is striker Annie Bwakolo, who Inifiri sees as a key figure in the Solomon attack. He says Bwakolo is one of the top female footballers in the country and is happy to have her back in the team after she was dropped for disciplinary reasons in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
The Solomon Islanders have prepared for this event by playing a pair of friendly matches against an invitational side from Honiara, the nation’s capital, and also brought fitness trainer Fa’amoana Topue into the camp last month. That endurance training may come in handy for the defence on Thursday as they try to contain Penateti Feke, who top-scored for Tonga with four goals during the South Pacific Games.
Bwakolo and her fellow strikers will have their work cut out for them at the other end trying to beat goalkeeper Mele Likiliki, a nominee for the 2008 OFC Women’s Player of the Year award.
A win for either side in this match will put them in pole position to challenge Papua New Guinea and Fiji for Group B’s two semi-final berths.
For full schedule and results click here
For official team lists click here