Photo Credit OFC Media
New Zealand heads into the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament- Oceania Qualifier (February 7-19) as strong favourites to qualify for their fifth Olympic Games.
But coach Jitka Klimkova believes the standard of women’s football throughout the Pacific is rapidly improving, with increased emphasis on developing the women’s game, a legacy of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ which was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking at the pre-tournament Media conference, Klimkova said she had watched the Oceania teams at the recent Pacific Games in Honiara and had taken note of the rising standard of football in the region.
“I think we can make each other better if we have competitive games, and we know the gaps are getting closer and I can see the development. It’s a lot of work and passion that needs to be put in, but you can see the sport is growing and there’s huge potential for Women’s Football to grow and develop in Oceania.” Klimkova said.
(Photo Credit OFC Media)
Papua New Guinea (PNG) traditionally have been seen as the team best placed to test New Zealand. Head coach Eric Komeng is playing down the pressure on his side.
“As a coach you just have to have confidence in the team and New Zealand is the favourite, but we must compete and try and be at our best in every game,” Komeng said.
“Winning the Pacific Games gives the girls confidence and builds a winning side, but the Women’s Olympic Qualifiers are a totally different competition,” Komeng said.
Rivals Fiji have selected a young side, featuring a number of players who will compete for a place in Angeline Chua’s squad at the FIFA U-20 World Cup later this year.
“The aim is to give the younger players as much international exposure as possible. We take it one game at a time and have a task ahead to make sure we qualify top of the Group. We know the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents,” Chua said.
The Fijians kick off their Group A campaign against American Samoa in the opening match of the tournament.
Tonga coach Kilifi Uele spoke passionately about the impact last year’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ has had on women’s football in his country.
“With the World Cup in our region, we realised how tremendously women’s football is going, and we need to be more active in our development and there is so much for us to work with FIFA and OFC. We need to change the way we coach and mould the players to be more competitive against New Zealand. So, if we are reducing the gap, New Zealand will get better and push to a higher level at the World Cup,” Uele said.
Tonga play New Zealand in their opening match at 1pm (Samoa time) while Fiji and American Samoa kick off the tournament at midday with PNG and Solomon Islands playing at 3pm and hosts Samoa meeting Vanuatu at 5pm.
Samoa coach Juan Chang Urrea says they see this opportunity as a blessing playing at home.
“We have only been playing one day at a time and our mission is to leave it better than we found it,” Chang Urrea said.
“It’s about doing the little things and focusing on what we can control.”