With only three days until kick-off, the eight nations competing in the 2017 OFC U-16 Women’s Championship have confirmed their representatives travelling to Apia, Samoa, to compete for a spot at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018.
After finishing bottom of their group in their debut last year, a fresh-faced Samoa team has rallied all the experience they can for this year’s campaign with hopes to improve on home soil.
Argentinian FFA B Licence coach Guillermo Schiltenwolf has been appointed to guide the squad from the sideline, and some key recruits have recently joined the camp in Samoa as they prepare for redemption.
Vineta Faleaana will offer leadership and experience for Samoa after recently participating in the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in Auckland this year. Faleaana played full matches against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand and also took the field in Samoa’s encounters with Tonga and New Caledonia, giving her a good taste of the different styles of football throughout the region and a realistic perspective of the challenge ahead in their U-16 campaign.
New Zealand-based players have also been called-on to contribute their experience on the field, including goalkeeper Meripa Seumanutafa, who has put club commitments on hold to fulfill her national duty and join the team in Samoa.
Leon Birnie makes his return to the regional stage after a successful campaign with the New Zealand U-20 women’s team last year, claiming their fifth consecutive OFC U-20 Women’s Championship title and representing the region at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
Birnie’s U-16 line-up will be getting their first taste of international football when they kick off in Samoa this August, but with most of his players in the middle of their NRFL Women’s Premier League seasons, the team has an abundance of raw talent, match fitness and senior experience on their side.
As four-time consecutive champions, New Zealand will be vying for their fifth title and sixth appearance at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
Tonga will have experience on their side in Samoa with many players only just making their return home after representing the nation at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in Auckland this July.
Despite their ages, Nipa Talasinga and Seini Lutu were standout players for Tonga in the U-19 competition, and will be feeling confident taking the field in the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship and leading the less-experienced players in the side.
Coach Lafaele Moala has extensive experience on the regional stage, taking the field for club team Veitongo FC in several OFC Champions League preliminary competitions, and will be looking forward to combining his experience on the field with his OFC C Licence knowledge has he leads Tonga through their campaign.
Fiji made an impressive debut in the competition last year, finishing third out of nine teams and taking home the Golden Glove award after Francine Lockington was crowned best goalkeeper of the tournament. Fiji’s campaign in Samoa will be in honour of Lockington, who tragically passed away this July.
Following the U-17 national team’s impressive campaign last year and Fiji recent success in their debut at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship, this year’s fresh-faced line-up will be looking to repeat and improve on Fiji’s huge steps in women’s football development.
Fiji coach Marika Rodu has recently completed his OFC B Licence and will be looking forward to applying his new knowledge on the field and gaining more real-life experience before continuing his coaching career and pursuing the OFC A Licence.
Beach soccer-mad Tahiti will be making their debut in the U-16 Women’s Championship this year but with the young squad training together since April – and before that through local teams – the squad has become a tight-knit unit familiar with each other’s style of play.
Although the players will be getting their first taste of international football, coach Stéphanie Spielmann carries extensive experience at the helm in international teams, holding a UEFA A Licence.
Cook Islands will be eager to improve their standing this year after falling short of the knockout stage when they hosted the 2016 edition of the competition, but with American Samoa, Tonga and Fiji also competing for the top spot in Group B, Cook Islands have a tough challenge ahead of them.
Holding an OFC C Licence, coach Theresa Tatuava will be looking forward to gaining more experience on the field and learning with her 17-man squad as they contend for a place in the knockout stage.
New Caledonia will be vying for a higher placing after an unfortunate fourth place finish following their strong start in the 2016 edition. New Caledonia claimed their place in the knockout stage after finishing second in the group to New Zealand, but lost 2-1 to Papua New Guinea in the semi-final then lost 3-2 to Fiji in the third-place playoff.
Marie-Laure Palene will make her return to the regional stage with New Caledonia after only recently representing her nation at the OFC U-19 Women’s championship in Auckland. As the only player in the team with international experience, Palene will play a pivotal role in leading on the field, but with UEFA A Licence coach Matthieu Delcroix at the helm, the young team will have more than enough experience guiding them through their campaign.
Along with Tahiti, American Samoa will be making their debut at the 2017 edition of the competition. Led by coach Ruth Tuato’o, the young side will be the first representatives to showcase women’s football in the age group.
Although the side doesn’t carry the same experience as many of their opponents, American Samoa is expected to bring a physical game to the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship and will be eager prove themselves as worthy contenders on the regional stage.
See who will be representing their nations at the 2017 OFC U-16 Women’s Championship below: