Kicking off just over a year after the 2016 OFC U-17 Championship – and only a few months after the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea – there are many familiar faces coming to Auckland this July.
Defending champions New Zealand have recruited an army of international experience for their attempt at a sixth-consecutive title including Malia Steinmetz, Grace Jale, and goalkeeper Anna Leat – who will offer senior international football experience to Gareth Turnball’s squad having already been in the mix for the New Zealand national women’s team.
Steinmetz and Jale were also part of New Zealand’s squad at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, along with Hannah Blake, Jacqui Hand, Elizabeth Anton, Sarah Morton and goalkeeper Nadia Olla. Hand, Blake and Jale –along with 11 other players in the team – represented New Zealand at the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan as well.
After their historic FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign last year, Papua New Guinea also hold a handful of players from their world cup squad including Nicollete Ageva, who scored the nation’s only goal of the tournament against eventual champions Korea DPR.
Adding more experience to his side in an effort to face-track the development of domestic players, Tonga coach Christian Koaneti has recruited three New Zealand-based players to meet the team in Auckland for the competition.
Also contributing experience to the team, Tonga-based player Seini Lutu has already represented her nation at the 2014 OFC U-20 Women’s Championship, 2015 OFC U-20 Women’s Championship, and the 2016 OFC U-17 Women’s Championship. At only 16 years old, Lutu is a well-seasoned national team player and will be one to watch throughout the competition.
Although Fiji will be making their debut in this age group, many players in the team have already made a name for themselves, representing Fiji in the U-17 competition last year.
After edging New Caledonia 3-2 and placing third, many of the players have moved up to the next age-group, including goal-scorers Aliza Husseiin, Koleta Likuculacula, and Cema Nasau. The latter found the net five times in the U-17 competition, scoring twice in their third-place playoff against the Francophones.
Also taking the field for Fiji is goalkeeper Francine Lockington, who proved her ability between the posts last year earning the 2016 OFC U-17 Women’s Championship Golden Glove Award.
New Caledonia did a great job showcasing their development at last year’s U-17 competition – finishing second in their group behind eventful champions New Zealand – but the nation was less fortunate with results in 2015’s U-20 competition.
With nine players moving up to join the next age group including Darnelle Hace, Ami-Nata Ajapuhnya, Isabelle Ilengo and goalkeepers Karine Xozame and Kathleen Waunie, New Caledonia are hopeful of an improved performance.
This year’s Samoa U-19 team will have large shoes to fill after 2015’s representatives earned their highest placing in the nation’s history – finishing runners up behind New Zealand.
As older players in the team have moved into the senior women’s football age group, spaces have been filled by players from last year’s U-17 team, including goalkeeper Jecky Toma, striker Sophia Aveau, and U-17 captain Shalom Fiso.
After a tough campaign in the U-17 competition last year, the young Samoan players will be battling for redemption against plenty of other familiar faces moving up the ranks to U-19s when the competition kicks off next month.
The 2017 OFC U-19 Women’s Championship will be played as a round-robin competition, running from 11-24 July at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland, New Zealand, to determine Oceania’s representative nation at the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.