U-16 women stride towards semi-finals

New Zealand have taken a big step towards the semi-finals of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship with their second comprehensive victory in succession, this time 7-0 against New Caledonia.

While the winning margin wasn’t as massive as in the 17-1 triumph over Tahiti that kicked off New Zealand’s campaign, coach Leon Birnie will be satisfied nonetheless after virtually securing a berth in the final four. The defending champions now lead Group A and their goal difference of +23 means it would take something extraordinary for them to be overtaken.

With the conditions hot and muggy at the J.S. Blatter Football Complex in Apia, Birnie took the opportunity to make full use of his squad depth with goalkeeper Rylee Godbold, Shannon Trebes, Margot Ramsay, Maggie Jenkins, Aniela Jensen, Mackenzie Barry and Britney Cunningham-Lee all coming in to the starting line-up.

One of the newcomers was given a golden opportunity to open the scoring when New Zealand were awarded a penalty in the 15th minute but Jenkins put her attempt just over the cross bar. Fortunately for Jenkins, she was not made to rue the miss as Jensen did put the Kiwis in front just seconds later with an expert volley from a Cunningham-Lee cross.

That lead was extended in the 24th minute when Grace Wisnewski prodded in a Jenkins header at the second attempt and New Caledonia must have thought they had done enough to take a two-goal deficit into the break as the clocked ticked into injury time. But New Zealand managed to add a third before the whistle in fortuitous circumstances, Jenkins receiving the ball wide on the left after a flowing move and seeing her attempted cross sail over goalkeeper Serena Huliwa.

There was also a stroke of luck about New Zealand’s fourth on 54 minutes as Huliwa fumbled a straightforward save into the path of Cunningham-Lee, who accepted the gift with glee by smashing in off the crossbar.

Jenkins then became the only player to score more than once in the match when she showed excellent technique by controlling a cross from Hannah Mackay-Wright and rifling home a low volley just past the hour mark. At 5-0 down, the last sight the Francophones wanted to see was the competition’s leading scorer, Kelli Brown, rising from the bench for New Zealand but she did just that and soon had another goal to add to the seven she notched first up against Tahiti.

It was arguably the pick of the day’s scoring, Brown receiving the ball with her back to goal well outside the box before turning sharply and chipping a stranded Huliwa from distance on 75 minutes. Jenkins was not to be denied her share of the spotlight though and completed her hat-trick in the dying stages after athletically meeting a corner on the full and perfectly placing it inside the far post for 7-0.

“Credit to New Caledonia, they made it really challenging and we struggled to get through them at times,” Birnie said.

“It was difficult for us and that was reflected on the scoreboard. We also found it challenging in the heat, it was a lot cooler in the first game. A key learning for the girls is that we’ve got to do everything properly off the field and then, when it does get tough, mentally they have to work through that.”

Despite failing to match their net-busting exploits of the first match, Birnie was pleased to see his charges look to play in the right manner.

“They went out there and tried to implement what we’ve been working on. We’ve got some things in and out of possession that are our focus for the campaign and we’re trying to do them,” he said.

“Even when it didn’t come off, I think that was just because of tiredness and then the quality wasn’t quite there – but the intent was always there.”

New Zealand will aim to go into the knockout stages with a perfect record by posting another win against hosts Samoa in their final Group A game on Saturday.

Match Details

New Zealand 7 (Aniela Jensen 17’, Grace Wisnewski 24’, Maggie Jenkins 45’ + 2’, 61’, 87’, Britney Cunningham-Lee 54’, Kelli Brown 75’)
New Caledonia 0
HT: 3-0

New Zealand: 13. Rylee Godbold (GK), 2. Shannon Trebes, 3. Anneka Mittendorff (7. Kelli Brown 62’), 4. Hannah Mackay-Wright (15. Gabrielle Rennie 62’), 6. Grace Wisnewski (16. Jayda Stewart 46’), 8. Maya Hahn (c), 9. Margot Ramsay, 10. Maggie Jenkins, 14. Mackenzie Barry, 17. Aniela Jensen, 18. Britney Cunningham-Lee

Substitutes not used: 1. Georgia Candy (GK), 5. Amy Waters, 11. Arabella Maynard, 12. Macey Fraser

Coach: Leon Birnie

OFC U-16 Women’s Championship – Qualifiers for 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

(J.S. Blatter Football Complex, Apia)

New Zealand vs Samoa
Saturday 12 August, 4pm (NZT)

Tuesday 15 August

Friday 18 August