Three players from the Club have been selected in the squad that is tasked with taking New Zealand to the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.
Saskia Vosper, Malia Steinmetz and Samantha Tawharu have all had the call up from Coach Gareth Turnbull.
Turnbull’s charges will enter the qualifying tournament, the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship, next month as both the home nation and favourites and will take on five sides from the Pacific Islands – Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa and Tonga – in a round-robin format at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland from July 11 to 24.
Turnbull has selected a 20-strong squad and is aiming to do more than merely qualify for the World Cup.
“Qualification is the primary aim – and in a comfortable style of football,” he says.
“But we also want to provide more learning opportunities for some of the girls who have experienced international football, who will get another taste of a different style, and the girls who maybe haven’t been part of an international programme before,” he adds.
“The aim is for them to become more immersed and rub shoulders with some of the girls in the senior mix to grow into international footballers.”
New Zealand have traditionally dominated female age-group tournaments in the Oceania region but Turnbull believes the standard is rising across the Pacific and is not expecting his side to have it all their own way.
“We expect all the nations will give us a different challenge and I saw that when we went away with the U-17s last year,” he says.
“I think PNG will be the most organised and competitive team and we have them up first, which will be a great opening to the tournament. If the last U-17s qualifying cycle is anything to go off, New Caledonia have a few really exciting players – X-factor type players who we need to be mindful of – while Fiji will be competitive and Samoa and Tonga will make life hard,” he adds.
“The focus will be on us and we have some quality players who can execute the playing style we are trying to develop here. If we don’t prepare properly and approach every game as an international fixture we will make life difficult for ourselves. But if we approach it with confidence and show our qualities then I am pretty confident we will qualify.”
The squad includes three players who have already been in the mix for the senior Football Ferns – goalkeeper Anna Leat, Grace Jale and Malia Steinmetz – and others who are part of the Football Ferns Development Programme (FFDP), an initiative put in place by New Zealand Football to help the country’s most promising domestic-based players make the step up to international football.
“They’re going to bring us some experience as they have been to U-17 and U-20 World Cups. Anna has had a couple of caps in the senior national team, which is amazing, and they are part of the FFDP group, where we are working in a pretty high performance environment. I would require all of the FFDP girls to be leaders within the group, to keep standards high and make sure we are all tracking in the same direction.”
A notable name missing is Three Kings United forward and three-cap Football Fern Paige Satchell, who has been ruled out due to a knee injury.
“It’s a blow for Paige, she’s an incredibly talented player – an important player for the Ferns – and it’s a huge disappointment to lose her for upwards of nine months with an ACL. But the challenge will be to make sure she does her rehab and is in a fantastically supportive environment so that, when she comes back into the fold next year, she hasn’t lost too much of where she is at.”
Satchell, Steinmetz and Jale were all part of New Zealand’s squad at the previous FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last year in Papua New Guinea, as were Hannah Blake, Jacqui Hand, Elizabeth Anton, Sarah Morton and goalkeeper Nadia Olla.
With such quality and major tournament experience at his disposal, Turnbull admits the selection process was tough.
“It’s always a challenge selecting a national team because there are good players you have to leave out but, on the other hand, we are very excited with the group we have available,” he says.
“There are some girls that went away to the U-17 World Cup in Jordan last year that aren’t in this group but it’s a challenge for the girls who missed out to continue working hard and force their way back in.”
New Zealand squad for OFC U-19 Women’s Championship
New Zealand schedule at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship
(Ngahue Reserve, Auckland)