The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Women’s World Cup Qualifiers – Papua New Guinea 2007 will burst into life at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, Papua New Guinea on Monday with New Zealand heavily favoured to prevail.
The star-studded New Zealand line-up features fulltime professional players such as Rebecca Smith, veteran 1991 World Cup hero Wendi Henderson, stalwart Maia Jackman, and a raft of graduates from the proud performing U-20 age-group class of 2006 such as Ali Riley, Hannah Bromley, Abby Erceg, to name but a few. On paper New Zealand should have few problems sweeping aside their more modest opponents.
The team’s preparations for Papua New Guinea have been beset by the resignation of talismanic coach Allan Jones. Jones resigned his post following a 1-0 defeat by Australia citing personal and professional reasons allowing the popular and charismatic New Zealand U-20 coach John Herdman to step into the breach.
With many of Herdman’s charges from the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – Russia 2006 campaign having already made the step up to senior international level the fit is hand-in-glove for the New Zealanders who will welcome a familiar face to the vacated coaching position.
With experience, history and the recent upsurge in popularity of women’s football in New Zealand it will be difficult to see another team from OFC prevent the Kiwis from making their second appearance at a FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.
Host nation Papua New Guinea will be out to halt the New Zealand juggernaut by improving on their habit of finishing third at OFC Women’s tournaments. Papua New Guinea have never broken the stranglehold on the top two slots by Australia and New Zealand finishing third in 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003.
Coach Marcos Gusmao has built a team he feels will be capable of beating Solomon Islands and Tonga after a solid three month training camp. Papua New Guinea’s best result against New Zealand was a 2-0 defeat recorded in Port Moresby in 1994 and an improvement on that performance and result would constitute a major success for the hosts given the technical gap between the two nations.
Papua New Guinea has an impeccable record against other nations in previous OFC campaigns including convincing victories at this level against American Samoa (9-0), Cook Islands (5-1), and Samoa (5-2). Gusmao will look to senior players such as Judith Sauto Michael and Ara Midi for inspiration as excitement builds for the local populace ahead of the tournament which is expected to draw 5-10,000 supporters for the opening day of action.
Solomon Islands coach Noel Wagapu brings a hastily arranged squad to the OFC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers – Papua New Guinea 2007 that will rely on the experience and knowledge of squad stalwart Diane Justus.
Justus name is synonymous with women’s football in the Solomon Islands and if the team is to leave behind the pain of the recent tsunami that wrought devastation in the north of the country the squad will look to her for leadership.
16 year-old Laydah Samani will bring Solomon Islands best chance of getting on the score sheet with the Malaita-born teenager proving her prowess in front of goal at domestic level when she won the 2006 Honiara Women’s League Golden Boot award.
Tonga – currently 55th in the FIFA rankings – will rely on the pace of exciting striker Penateti Feke and 22-year-old captain Mele Teukialupe Likiliki as they navigate a path through this qualifying campaign. A recent training camp at the OFC Academy has yielded a big improvement in crucial areas of the team but warm-up results against New Zealand club sides suggest they still have some distance to improve.
Coach Kilifi Solia Uele says the future of Tongan women’s football rests with the younger generation but the performance of the team at Papua New Guinea – 2007 will go a long way toward increasing the popularity of women’s football in the country.