Despite New Zealand qualifying for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup with a perfect record, coach Gareth Turnbull feels there is more to come from his players and is challenging them to lift their standards ahead of next year’s tournament in France.
The home nation justified their favouritism at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland this month, claiming the title and thus securing a World Cup berth with high-scoring victories over Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa and Tonga respectively.
Turnbull’s charges reached double figures on two occasions and conceded only once while their lowest winning margin was by six goals. But he was not entirely satisfied with their efforts, particularly in front of goal.
“For large parts, we played really well,” he says. “Our build-up, our incision and a lot of our out-of-possession work was good. But across the tournament we did leave a lot of goals begging to be put away, which we’ve touched on and reflected upon.”
The Kiwis were often forced to find a way through a wall of bodies with opposing sides electing to employ a deep block and putting that tactic into practice in doggedly determined fashion.
While failing to take enough of their chances for Turnbull’s liking, New Zealand did manage to score nearly 50 goals though and the net-busting was shared around with nine players all getting on the scoresheet.
Emma Main received the tournament’s golden boot thanks to her 11 efforts while Sam Tawharu struck nine times and Hannah Blake followed closely with eight. Dayna Stevens also made an eye-catching contribution in her maiden international appearances with six while Deven Jackson, Grace Jale and Michaela Foster all notched three each.
As well as leading the scoring charts, New Zealand also set an example in the disciplinary stakes, taking home the Fair Play Award after not receiving a single booking across all five matches.
Goals will be much harder to come by in France next year but Turnbull believes there is enough ability in his ranks to make an impact against the world’s best.
“This is a really talented group,” he says. “Most of these players have already played on the world stage before so I think we’ll have some real confidence going into a major event where it’s not the first time for us.”
While believing in the potential of his side, Turnbull says each player has plenty of work ahead of them if they are to achieve their aims.
“It’s a matter of the girls going back into their training environments and working really hard, day-in and day-out. They need to do more than they possibly have been doing in the past because, if they want to become top Football Ferns or professionals, it’s about doing more.”
New Zealand U-20 women’s coach Gareth Turnbull
The 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup will take place in France from August 7 to 26 and New Zealand are the first nation to join the hosts, who qualify automatically, in booking their place.