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New Zealand U20 3, Papua New Guinea U20 0
Centre Park, Auckland, February 22 2014

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It was back to Centre Park for me today to witness a World Cup qualification in person for the first time since 2005! New Zealand played Papua New Guinea in the last game of the Oceania Football Confederation Under 20 Women’s Championships, and it was beautifully set up so the winner would win the tournament and claim the up for grabs berth at this year’s FIFA Under 20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

You might be forgiven for thinking that of course New Zealand would go through quite comfortably here, and that this is all a bit of a yawn. Well they did, and it sort of was in the end, but that wasn’t how it was shaping up going in, as the Junior Football Ferns struggled to find form throughout the tournament.

They thrashed Vanuatu in their first game but looked somewhat rusty against the least accomplished side at the tournament. Meanwhile, earlier that same day, Papua New Guinea comfortably defeated Tonga to establish themselves as the number one challengers for the title. Then in New Zealand’s next game, they struggled to get past Tonga as the side from the Friendly Islands cancelled out the Ferns early goal with a shock equaliser. It then took until deep into the second half for the locals to pull ahead and take an eventual unconvincing victory.

This suggested that this game today could well have all the ingredients of a thriller. If New Zealand had had another off day, and Papua New Guinea had played above themselves, who knows, perhaps the plucky Kapuls could well have found themselves the first ever Papua New Guinea side to make a World Cup.

It wasn’t to be though. New Zealand still looked a bit flat, and once again will be disappointed they didn’t put this game away much earlier than they did. However, fortunately for them, their opponents were far worse than them and despite some nice counterattacking breaks, particularly in the first half, they lacked the firepower up front and in reality never really looked like troubling the scorer.

Never the less, New Zealand’s one goal advantage secured by Belinda Van Noorden in just the 10th minute looked for the vast bulk of the game like being the only thing that would separate the visitors from history. It wasn’t until the 86th minute when Jasmine Pereira was subbed on, and banged one in with her first touch of the game, that a sigh of relief could be exhaled from the New Zealand coach’s bench and, by the time it came, it may well have been capable of registering on an anemometer in Papatoetoe…

An injury time own goal by a PNG defender stretched the score out to 3-0, which was a pity for the team in red as they have had a good tournament and deserved the tighter scoreline. As it was however, the New Zealanders have a lot of work to do if they are going to be competitive in Canada.

It will be interesting to see how they go! Having now gotten to know all these players fairly well having watched most of them play for club, National Women’s League Franchise, and now country, I will be watching them with interest on the big stage.

Categories: Football Ferns

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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