New Zealand have booked a place at the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup but were made to work hard in the process by a stubborn defensive effort from Samoa and an inspired goalkeeping performance in tough conditions at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland.
Having already swept aside Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Caledonia in high-scoring victories, coach Gareth Turnbull knew anything similar today in the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship would be enough to virtually guarantee his side a berth in France next year. While the margin of victory wasn’t as comprehensive as in those earlier wins, Turnbull’s side got the job done regardless with a 6-0 triumph.
The tournament format is a straight round robin with no subsequent knockout stages and the defending champions could still be caught by Papua New Guinea. But the Melanesians then went on to lose 3-2 to Fiji later in the day, making New Zealand the first team to qualify for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
The thoughts of Turnbull and co can therefore now start turning to France but not before they have reflected on today’s performance.
As has been the case for most of the tournament, it was a wet and windy day at Ngahue Reserve with the players thankful of having an artificial turf beneath their feet. But even that surface began to gather water, making flowing football difficult for both sides.
Turnbull was impressed with the way his charges adapted to such an environment, particularly as doing so was not a feature of their preparations.
“Samoa made it very difficult for us and we’re pleased to come away with the win because it was very challenging conditions,” he said. “I think some of our smartest football was actually when the weather was at its worst. I thought we played some good wet weather football which is something we definitely don’t train to do.”
With plenty of talent at his disposal, Turnbull again elected to shuffle his pack as Saskia Vosper, Sarah Morton, Grace Jale, Hannah Blake, Jacqui Hand and Claudia Bunge all came into the starting line-up. There was also a change in formation with the midfield moving into a diamond shape.
A combination of the horrific conditions, adapting to the tactical switch and Samoa’s well-organised rear-guard came together to prevent New Zealand getting off to the same high-flying start as in previous games and it was only 2-0 at the break. With goalkeeper Jecky Toma in inspired form, it took until the 21st minute for the home nation to get off the mark when top scorer Sam Tawharu struck her eighth goal of the campaign.
Grace Jale added another just past the half-hour mark before Samoa gave New Zealand a helping hand in the 56th minute, an unfortunate defender heading a Hannah Blake cross into her own net. Joining Tawharu near the top of the scoring charts were three other players who went into the game on six goals each – Blake, Dayna Stevens and Emma Main – and two of them increased their tallies in the remaining half hour.
Main rose from the bench to make it 4-0 in the 67th minute before Tawharu added her second a few moments later and Blake provided New Zealand’s sixth with eight minutes remaining.
“We’re pleased to get out of here with another win and another opportunity to play in a different style, as well as giving some more experience to some of these girls,” Turnbull said.
“The deeper set block we’ve come across in this tournament took us a while to figure out and we played in a new shape to try to challenge our girls. And the goalkeeper made some good saves – the quality of the keepers across all the island teams has been really good actually, it’s really improved,” he added.
“We want to constantly improve, get better in the different areas and there’s still things for us to tidy up so we’re looking forward to that last game against Tonga.”
— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) July 21, 2017
New Zealand 6 (Sam Tawharu 21’, 69’, Grace Jale 31’, own goal 56’, Emma Main 67’, Hannah Blake 82’)
New Zealand: 13. Nadia Olla (GK), 2. Saskia Vosper (15. Michaela Foster 63’), 4. Elizabeth Anton, 5. Sarah Morton, 6. Grace Jale, 8. Malia Steinmetz (c), 9. Samantha Tawharu, 10. Hannah Blake, 11. Jacqui Hand (7. Emma Main 63’), 14. Claudia Bunge, 16. Nicole Mettam (19. Deven Jackson 63’)
Substitutes not used: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 3. Rebecca Lake, 12. Emma Clarke, 17. Dayna Stevens, 20. Serena Murrihy|
Coach: Gareth Turnbull