U-16s one step away from World Cup

A young group of Kiwis are just one win away from a place at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup after New Zealand put on a scintillating attacking display to sweep aside Cook Islands 9-0 in the semi-finals of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Apia today.

On a typically balmy evening at the J.S. Blatter Football Complex, the defending champions continued to justify their favouritism with yet another convincing victory, their fourth such consecutive success of the campaign. Remarkably, they have now scored over 40 goals at the tournament and conceded just one.

Over half those strikes have been netted by the deadly duo of Kelli Brown and Maggie Jenkins, who added further to their impressive tallies with a hat-trick and brace respectively against a Cook Islands side that was blown away in the first half but recovered to offer more resistance in the second.

Also getting on the scoresheet were captain Maya Hahn, Margot Ramsay, Jayda Stewart and Grace Wisnewksi as New Zealand fired themselves into the final in stunning fashion.

With the Samoan heat and humidity a constant challenge to battle against, coach Leon Birnie has made full use of his talented squad throughout the competition and did so again today, making four changes as Hannah Mackay-Wright, Grace Wisnewski, Maya Hahn and Britney Cunningham-Lee all came into the starting line-up.

But, unsurprisingly, it was Brown and Jenkins who made the most impact, running riot in the opening half hour to take the game away from the Cook Islands. The underdogs must have identified that pair as major threats but could do little to stop them as Brown further underlined her potential by notching her fourth hat-trick of the campaign – two of those being a double hat-trick in the first-up win over Tahiti.

Brown got the ball rolling by pouncing on an error from Cook Islands goalkeeper Dora Iripa in the 18th minute and completed a quick-fire hat-trick with two further efforts just past the half hour. Jenkins had earlier likewise hit a swift brace with two goals in as many minutes, leaving the Cook Islands reeling at 5-0 down already.

With the match all but won, Birnie then took the opportunity to remove Brown and Jenkins, much to the relief of Iripa and her over-worked defence. But the scoring continued in what was left of the half, skipper Hahn converting calmly from the penalty spot before substitute Margot Ramsay struck from close range to make it 7-0 at the break.

The Cook Islanders rallied at half-time and put on an improved defensive display in the second period, Birnie’s side scoring only twice more through Jayda Stewart – who had joined Ramsay in entering the fray as an early substitute – and Grace Wisnewski. The latter’s strike was a fitting way to end the scoring in the 79th minute, New Zealand working the ball out from the back in just a few incisive passes to put Wisnewski in space in front of goal.

“I was quite impressed with the girls today,” Birnie said.

“The Cook Islands showed their intent straight away with how they were going to set up defensively and in the previous two games it’s taken us a while to put the goals in the back of the net. But this time the girls were quite bright and they were able to break down the Cook Islands. Before you knew it, we were 5-0 up within 30 minutes and the game was over,” he added.

“What was really impressive for me was the way the players were able to execute what we’ve spoken about and work that out for themselves, rather than being triggered from the sideline. They did that really well, especially in the first half.”

New Zealand will take on New Caledonia in the final of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship on Friday evening after the Francophones defeated Fiji 4-2 in the other semi-final. The Kiwis will go in as heavy favourites after defeating New Caledonia 7-0 earlier in the tournament.

The winner of the final will earn a berth at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, set to take place in Uruguay next December.

Match Details

New Zealand 9 (Kelli Brown 18’, 31’, 34’, Maggie Jenkins 27’, 28’, Maya Hahn pen 38’, Margot Ramsay 41’, Jayda Stewart 61’, Grace Wisnewski 79’)
Cook Islands 0
HT: 7-0

New Zealand: 12. Rylee Godbold (GK), 3. Aneka Mittendorff, 4. Hannah Mackay-Wright, 5. Amy Waters, 6. Grace Wisnewski, 7. Kelli Brown (16. Jayda Stewart 35’), 8. Maya Hahn (c), 10. Maggie Jenkins (9. Margot Ramsay 35’), 12. Macey Fraser (2. Shannon Trebes 52’), 15. Gabrielle Rennie, 18. Britney Cunningham-Lee
Substitutes not used: 1. Georgia Candy (GK), 11. Arabella Maynard, 14. Mackenzie Barry, 17. Aniela Jensen
Coach: Leon Birnie

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