Like many people, New Zealand’s women’s U-17 team have endured a frustrating year.
The past 12 months have presented a number of roadblocks for the side which has seen multiple tournaments disrupted that they were due to compete in.
The OFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2019 – that was set to be held in December – was delayed due to the measles outbreak in the Pacific and pushed into 2020.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and that OFC tournament, which was meant to be played in Tahiti in April to decide who would attend the next instalment of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, was cancelled.
Given their strong track record in women’s youth football, New Zealand were then nominated as OFC’s representative for the global tournament.
The rescheduled FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup is penciled in to be held in India in February and March 2021 after it was moved from its original dates in November of this year.
It all adds up to a disjointed preparation for Leon Birnie’s side who are looking to follow-on from New Zealand’s heroics at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2018 when they claimed a historic bronze medal.
The New Zealand squad are getting together for the first time this year with a training camp in Cambridge this week.
Twenty-eight players will attend, while Birnie continues to monitor the progress of four more athletes who are based in Australia but are eligible for New Zealand.
Eventually he will need to settle on a 21-strong squad to head to India but for now Birnie is keen to get his group together so they can work on their team culture while assessing the fitness levels of his players.
“I think there’s some really talented individuals in there; there’s some good leaders in there,” Birnie said.
“I just think this is the reality that’s in front of us; how can we make the best of this situation?
“Everyone’s really excited to get back together and get on the grass and we’ve done quite a bit of pre-camp work over the last month to try and speed up their development to help hit the ground running.”
During the camp, the New Zealanders will play matches against the Wai-BOP women’s national league side and Melville United’s U-14 boys team.
Birnie has done his best to keep in close contact with his wider squad during the past few months despite their inability to convene due to coronavirus.
The players also combined to create a trick shot video earlier in the year that proved popular on social media. Catch the video below.
Looking ahead, women’s football in the Pacific will receive more of the spotlight in the future given New Zealand will co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, alongside Australia.
Birnie said that news was well received by his players, some of whom may even be an outside chance to progress to the Football Ferns by then.
“They’re really excited that the World Cup’s here. It’s a potentially once in a lifetime event.”
But first, they will need to prepare for their own World Cup when they head to India early next year.