The classy Football Ferns have flown through to the final, smashing in 39 goals and giving away nothing at the other end. Papua New Guinea are also yet to taste defeat but have not found the net with quite so much regularity, scoring nine times and conceding just once.
The South Pacific Games champions’ path to the final has come at a cost though – first-choice goalkeeper Linda Bunaga is suspended after being sent off late in the semi-final against Cook Islands and reserve custodian Fidelma Watpore will instead be between the sticks against New Zealand.
Watpore will have her work cut out for her to keep out the free-scoring Kiwis.
Former Arsenal striker Amber Hearn has been in superb form in front of goal and leads the golden boot race with 11 strikes. Fellow forwards Sarah Gregorius and Hannah Wilkinson have six and five respectively while Rosie White, Ria Percival and Hayley Moorwood all have three each.
Coach John Herdman is pleased to be facing Papua New Guinea because he feels they are the best of the tournament’s other sides and will give his team a stern examination. He is after a tough hit-out before they depart for the Peace Queen Cup in the Republic of Korea later this month.
The Football Ferns had to work very hard for a 2-0 win the last time the sides met for an Olympic Games qualifier in 2008.
“We want to make sure we get a really solid game before we go off to the Peace Queen Cup. Papua New Guinea were close to us when we played over there, that was pretty tight,” Herdman says. “We know what they’ve got and the harder the game the better.”
Opposing coach Francis Moyap says the suspension of Bunaga is a big loss and he may also be without another key figure, midfielder Daisy Winas, who missed the semi-final due to injury and is still in doubt.
He admits New Zealand have been in a league of their own at this tournament and says his players will have to perform at their highest possible levels.
“They are the best team here and will give us our toughest game,” Moyap says.
Papua New Guinea’s best chance of becoming the first side to breach the Ferns’ defence probably lies at the feet of Zeen Limbai. The striker has notched five goals so far, including the all-important winner in the semi-final.
The steadying influence of captain Deslyne Siniu in midfield has also been a big part of the side’s success but Moyap says everyone will have to pitch in for the final.
“Football is about teamwork and the onus is on all the players. If they all contribute and work together then we can get the right result. I’ve watched a couple of New Zealand’s games and we have a few things up our sleeve so we might surprise them.”
The final is not the only action taking place tomorrow. The beaten semi-finalists, Solomon Islands and Cook Islands, will meet at 1pm in the play-off for third before the grand final kicks off at 4pm.
Both games take place on the North Harbour Stadium outer oval.
Road to the final:
vs Vanuatu 14-0
vs Cook Islands 10-0
vs Tahiti 7-0
Semi-final: vs Solomon Islands 8-0
Papua New Guinea
vs Fiji 3-0
vs Solomon Islands 2-1
vs Tonga 3-0
Semi-final: vs Cook Islands 1-0
OFC Women’s Nations Cup Day Eight:
Solomon Islands vs Cook Islands
1pm, North Harbour Stadium outer oval
New Zealand vs Papua New Guinea
4pm, North Harbour Stadium outer oval
LIVE text updates of each match will be available online at oceaniafootball.com