by Jeremy Mogi – EM TV Sports, Port Moresby
The five nations competing at next month’s Oceania Football Confederation U-20 Women’s Championship have revealed the squads they hope will take them to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea 2016.
The Oceania qualifiers will be staged from October 1-10 at the Loto-Tonga Soccer Centre in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, with the winners set to book themselves a berth alongside hosts PNG.
Getting ready to fight it out for that sole spot are the finest young players on offer from New Caledonia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
With women’s football development on the rise across the Pacific, this edition of the tournament is likely to be one of the most competitive yet.
Youth development has come under the spotlight across the Oceania region in recent years with Development Centres and Centres of Excellence being installed across OFC’s 11 Member Associations and playing a strong supporting role to the handful of established youth academies.
The pathways in place have already produced many players and some of these will be in action for their countries in Tonga, meaning the Kiwis face a far-from-straightforward task in earning their fifth title in a row.
A large portion of the squad also have FIFA tournament experience which should lend well to their chase for more regional glory in Tonga.
Tonga have a strong women’s development programme and recent results on the regional stage are evidence that they are starting to make inroads.
Captain Vea Funaki has returned to the fold along with Ofaloto Laakulu, both of whom have been outstanding rearguards for the senior side in recent times.
All up, coach Penateti Feke has included nine members of the XV Pacific Games squad, giving an element of experience to the side that should come in handy.
First-time coach Leti Tamasese has named a relatively untested side for this competition, with just one member of the squad having turned out at regional level previously.
Lagimaina Akari was in Papua New Guinea for the XV Pacific Games, which means her teammates will likely look to her for advice and leadership.
The side has a majority of domestically developed members, but a number of New Zealand and Australia-based players have also been included.
New Caledonia were just shy of breaking past Papua New Guinea at the XV Pacific Games in the race for the gold medal.
With this competition their next opportunity to make up for that final defeat, the five players from the senior squad coming to Tonga will be out to prove themselves.