A promising blend of potential and experience has been brought together for New Zealand’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup squad with several Football Ferns being joined by three players who starred at the U-17 tournament in Jordan earlier this month.
Senior internationals Meikayla Moore, Jasmine Pereira, Daisy Cleverley and Paige Satchell – who all travelled to Brazil for the Rio Olympic Games in August – headline the squad but there are plenty of other notable inclusions in the highly-talented group named by coach Leon Birnie.
Hannah Blake, Grace Jale and Nadia Olla have all just returned from the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and their confidence levels will be sky high after helping their country to a 5-0 win over hosts Jordan in the final group game, in which Blake struck a hat-trick.
“I just caught up with them to congratulate them on their performances at the World Cup and being selected into the U-20s and all three had a similar message – that it was a great experience,” Birnie says. “With that in mind, they’ll be looking to come into this U-20s environment and really challenge the other girls to respond.”
Also setting the standards are the Football Ferns contingent, who Birnie says will have a huge impact on those around them.
“They’re really important and have led from the front all the way through. Meikayla and Jaz have been our senior leadership group, on and off the pitch,” he says.
“On the field, they know what it’s like to play at a senior World Cup and to train with the Ferns regularly. They’ve set themselves high standards and have tried to pass those standards on to the rest of the group to make sure they’re all training at the level required.”
Offering further experience are the likes of Emma Rolston, Isabella Coombes and Martine Puketapu, who joined current captain Moore, vice-captain Pereira and Cleverley at the previous U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada two years ago.
Having all that quality at his disposal made the selection process difficult for Birnie but he is content at the outcome.
“We had to make some tough decisions but we’ve made those now and are extremely happy with the squad,” he says.
The goal is to get out of the group stages but results are not the only priority with player development also high on the list.
“The main thing is that we’re here to develop players into future Football Ferns. We need them to transition into that team seamlessly and be part of that environment for many years to come,” he says.
“We have some key things we’ve been working on all through the campaign and, if we can see the players replicate that against some of the best teams in the world, that would be a success for us. If we can put on good performances then the results will come and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
There is no doubt the Kiwis will be up against some of the finest young talent on the planet after being drawn in a testing group with the United States, France and Ghana.
“There’s been seven U-20 World Cups and the USA have won three of them so that record speaks for itself. France are technically very good while Ghana have always done well at World Cups – they’re athletic, physically strong and quick,” Birnie says.
“It’s going to be a challenge, that’s the reality and there’s no denying that. We had a very open conversation with the girls when the draw came out and said that, if we’re going to go beyond the group stages, then we’ll have to perform really well.”
The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup takes place in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea from November 13 to December 3 and New Zealand will compete in Group C.
New Zealand squad for 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup
Tessa Nicol (Lynn-Avon United / Football South)
Emily Couchman (Forrest Hill Milford United / Northern Football)
Nadia Olla (Norwest United / Auckland Football)
Sarah Morton (Norwest United / Central Football)
Sophie Stewart-Hobbs (Three Kings United / WaiBOP Football)
Elizabeth Anton (Western Springs / Auckland Football)
Samantha Murrell (Norwest United / Football South
Meikayla Moore (Cashmere Technical / Mainland Football)
Eileish Hayes (Claudelands Rovers / WaiBOP Football)
Mikayla Wieblitz (Cashmere Technical / Mainland Football)
Daisy Cleverley (Eastern Suburbs / Auckland Football)
Isabella Coombes (Forrest Hill Milford United / WaiBOP Football)
Jade Parris (Eastern Suburbs / Auckland Football)
Grace Jale (Eastern Suburbs / Auckland Football)
Juliana Los (Nelson Suburbs / Mainland Football)
Jasmine Pereira (Three Kings United / Auckland Football)
Martine Puketapu (Three Kings United / Auckland Football)
Emma Rolston (Forrest Hill Milford United / Capital Football)
Paige Satchell (Three Kings United / WaiBOP Football)
Hannah Blake (Three Kings United / Auckland Football)
Tayla Christensen (Forrest Hill Milford United / WaiBOP Football)
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football