Birnie wants increase in physicality

The New Zealand players line up for the national anthems before meeting Tahiti. Photo: OFC Media

New Zealand may have found the back of the net 17 times in their opening match of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship but coach Leon Birnie believes there is at least one area in which his players still have plenty of room for improvement.

Despite the massive winning margin against Tahiti, Birnie felt the Francophones out-muscled his side at times and does not want to see a repeat of that when the Kiwis meet New Caledonia tomorrow.

“I think physically we needed more work,” he says of that remarkable first-up victory in Apia, Samoa.

“We need to be really dominant in challenges, both on the ground and in the air. That was something we didn’t do well enough.”

Birnie would also like to see the New Zealand players get back into shape more quickly after coughing up possession.

“There were a number of players who were getting forward and that’s to be expected at times. But we need to make sure when we lose the ball we get back in transition,” he says.

The rout of Tahiti was led by an outstanding performance from Kelli Brown, who notched a seven-goal haul while Arabella Maynard and Grace Wisnewski both struck hat-tricks. Even in regards to those impressive efforts in front of goal, Birnie was not entirely satisfied though.

“We took our goals well but, in saying that, we missed quite a few and that’s something we’re going to address,” he says.

“I thought our ball speed was very good at times and we were able to play through the opposition really well. We were really proactive with our movement, especially our fullbacks, which gave us an overload and we were able to build from there.”

Birnie was obviously pleased with the sharp-shooting display of Brown but also reserved special praise for those in the middle of the park.

“I thought Macey Fraser and Maya Hahn were excellent in the first half, they really controlled the midfield and settled play down. We were able to get a platform from there and build momentum as a team.”

They will look to take those performances into Tuesday’s match at the J.S. Blatter Football Complex, where New Zealand are set to meet their second French-speaking opponents in quick succession. New Caledonia are coming off a big opening win themselves after accounting for Samoa 6-0, which included a hat-trick to Katinka Takumatsu.

But coach Matthieu Delcroix is fully aware his side will now face their toughest challenge of the competition.

“With New Zealand, we’re always ready because we know what is coming,” he says.

“We’ll play our best and do what we can. At least if we do lose, there’s still a third match for us to try and win so it’s far from over. We’ll be giving our all to try and get as far as possible.”

While careful not to underestimate New Caledonia, Birnie says the emphasis will again be on his own players.

“It’s about these girls as individuals and trying to improve them. Our focus is all on us and how we can help these girls be in a better place at the end of the campaign,” he says.

OFC U-16 Women’s Championship – Qualifiers for 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup
(J.S. Blatter Football Complex, Apia)

New Zealand vs New Caledonia
Tuesday 8 August, 1pm (NZT)

New Zealand vs Samoa
Saturday 12 August, 4pm (NZT)

Semi-Finals
Tuesday 15 August

Final
Friday 18 August

New Zealand (from): 1. Georgia Candy (GK), 2. Shannon Trebes, 3. Anneka Mittendorff, 4. Hannah Mackay-Wright, 5. Amy Waters, 6. Grace Wisnewski, 7. Kelli Brown, 8. Maya Hahn, 9. Margot Ramsay, 10. Maggie Jenkins, 11. Arabella Maynard, 12. Macey Fraser, 13. Rylee Godbold (GK), 14. Mackenzie Barry, 15. Gabrielle Rennie, 16. Jayda Stewart, 17. Aniela Jensen, 18. Britney Cunningham-Lee
Coach: Leon Birnie

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