(Photo Credit Fiji FA: Fiji captain Adi Litia Bakaniceva and New Zealand captain Zoe McMeeken with the tournament trophy)
An early test for two teams who feel they have genuine title credentials looms on match day one for Group B in the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in Suva today.
Hosts Fiji face seven times champions New Zealand at 4 pm (local time) and are hoping for a sizeable crowd to boost them in their quest to upset the defending champions.
Fiji head coach Angeline Chua says they have high hopes for the tournament.
“I think we are well prepared for a tournament we are hosting, and we want to put out a good performance. We have had about six weeks with the players so as a coach that’s a nice timeline to prepare the team. Our focus is on football and bringing the best out of the players on the pitch,” Chua said.
Chua is urging fans to turn up for the match with free entry for spectators at the HFC Bank Stadium.
“Home crowd is such a privilege and for the players once they see the home crowd, they will go for it and push on,” Chua added.
New Zealand coach Leon Birnie says his side has prepared well and is adjusting to the change in temperatures coming out of the chilly New Zealand winter.
“It’s going to be a real challenge and not knowing anything about Fiji in front of their home crowd will be a big challenge for the girls. So all we can do is go out and perform the best we can and see how that transpires on the day.” Birnie said.
The daytime temperatures have been relatively mild by Fiji standards with temperatures in the mid 20s.
“We haven’t experienced training on a really hot day so if that does come tomorrow, we have to see how the girls cope,” Birnie added.
The winner of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship will qualify for the next 2024 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and coming hard on the heels of the inaugural OFC Women’s Champions League in Papua New Guinea and just ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, Birnie sees tremendous opportunities for players competing in this tournament.
“The women’s game is moving forward around the world, to have a World Cup in New Zealand and new competitions across OFC is great for the game and if we are going to inspire the next generation of female players to be involved, we have a fantastic opportunity over the next 12-18 months.”
The Group C opener has the Solomon Islands playing Tahiti from 7pm.
Tahiti coach Civil Ouane says his players are excited and are waiting for the competition to start. “We want to be really competitive and showcase women’s football in the best possible way.”
The Solomon Islands team only arrived in Suva late on Tuesday night. But coach Priscilla Tariga is optimistic her side is ready to compete.
“We are confident, and we are ready for the game tomorrow despite arriving late.”
The Solomon Islands have a strong expat community in Suva and Tariga expects a good contingent of fans to be on hand to support her side.