Wednesday 28 August 2019, 05:59

Development taking hold as full field lines up in Oceania

  • OFC U-19 Women’s Championship features full field for the first time

  • Increasing focus on women’s football across the Pacific

  • Passage to the 2020 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup up for grabs

The 2019 OFC U-19 Women’s Championship will create a slice of history when the action kicks-off on Friday. For the first time all 11 Oceania Football Confederation members will line-up, a figure that contrasts with just six when the most recent edition was held two years ago. Despite the enhanced field, it is Cook Islands, the region’s smallest nation, who will play host.

Aside from continental glory, passage to the 2020 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup will be on the line. New Zealand, who have won all six tournaments since Australia joined the AFC in 2006, will start as warm favourites to retain their crown.

OFC U-19 Women’s Championship Dates: 30 August - 14 September Group A: Cook Islands, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu Group B: America Samoa, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti Group C: New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga

For many nations in the Pacific, it’s a case of one step at a time with women’s football still in its embryonic stages. One such nation are Tahiti, despite their strong history in men’s football and, more recently, in beach soccer.

Coached by French-born UEFA A Licence holder Stephanie Spielmann, it is another step in the right direction for Tahiti, whose senior side returned to the international stage last year after a seven-year hiatus.

Tahiti Federation President Thierry Ariiotima expressed his satisfaction that “true” development for women's football is now in place. “Football, in all its forms, should be for everyone,” he said. “It’s possible to say that has now become a reality in Tahiti, especially for women.”

Three groups will battle for four semi-final berths, before the tournament decider on 14 September. Holders and favourites New Zealand are boosted even further by their exploits at the 2018 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay late last year, where a dream run of results delivered a bronze medal, the nation’s first of any colour at global level.

Nine of New Zealand’s Uruguay 2018 squad will line up in the Cook Islands. Five squad members – Maggie Jenkins, Aneka Mittendorff, Rose Morton, Gabi Rennie and goalkeeper Nadia Olla – all featured in the last U-20 World Cup qualifying cycle. Olla was also a member of the Football Ferns squad at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in France.

It will be a maiden international outing for coach and the new Future Ferns Domestic Programme manager Gemma Lewis. The Wales-born Lewis was a mentee in FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme and was part of the senior team coaching set-up at France 2019.

“This is a great group of players and we are looking forward to the challenge in the Cook Islands,” Lewis said. “It is great to have that experience in the squad for this championship and we will be taking nothing for granted as we look to qualify for the World Cup next year.”