The New Zealand side are hot favourites to win the OFC Women's World Cup qualifying event in Papua New Guinea. The New Zealand side are hot favourites to win the OFC Women's World Cup qualifying event in Papua New Guinea.
Four teams will be battling it out in Papua New Guinea between 9 - 13 April in order to win Oceania's berth for the FIFA Women's World Cup in China.
New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Tonga and the hosts will be taking part in a round robin tournament, with the team with the most points heading to the Far East to represent their confederation this September.
Read on as FIFA.com asseses the chances of each side, starting with hosts Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea coach Marcos Gusmao brings his squad into this tournament hopeful that home advantage in Lae will translate into success similar to that enjoyed in previous OFC Women's tournaments. They finished in third place in the past four OFC Women's tournaments spanning the past 16 years but have yet to separate or better Australia and New Zealand from the top two slots.
Papua New Guinea's build-up campaign included a 3-0 victory over PNG Power, a local women's club, and drafted in six previously untried players during an intense training period in February, 2007. Gusmao is confident the squad had prepared well but insisted in the local press that the step up to challenge New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Tonga would require a further improvement.
The Solomon Islands Senior National Women's team will be relying on the finishing of 16 year-old Laydah Samani as they debut in their first ever OFC Women's World Cup qualifying campaign. The Malaita-born teenager will form the focus of Solomon Islands attacking spearhead and much is expected of her despite her tender years after she won the 2006 Honiara Women's League Golden Boot Award.
The Junior Flamingo striker has a strong background in Futsal and is just one of a number of talented players that make up this Solomon Islands team. What is clear is that the weight of expectation will be evenly spread around a team that boasts 11 players that are former internationals. Their preparation has been intense with the squad training every day in the month leading up to the tournament.
New Zealand may come into the OFC Women's World Cup Qualifiers as red-hot favourites to qualify for China, but suffered a setback when coach Allan Jones resigned citing personal reasons. This loss has been offset by the appointment of popular coach John Herdman who was at the helm of the New Zealand FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 campaign. New Zealand U-20 lost 0-3 to Australia, drew 0-0 with Brazil before suffering a heart-breaking last minute 3-2 defeat to host nation Russia. but Herdman and his team won critical acclaim across the board for a series of stirring performances.
The team has a combination of youth and experience with 35 year-old striker Wendi Henderson the sole survivor of New Zealand's FIFA Women's World Cup campaign in China in 1991 and Rebecca Smith part of a new era of Kiwi players who have graduated through the US College system and gone on to earn a full-time professional football career in Europe.
Tonga debut in this tournament as Oceania Football Confederation's second highest FIFA ranked member association at a highly respectable 55th out of 142 countries. Tongan football has been crying out for a boost of some sort for a several years and women's football has provided the Polynesian nation with the ideal vehicle to promote the code.
At the OFC U-20 Women's Championship-Samoa 2006, the Tonga team went all the way to the final after encouraging performances against Vanuatu (4-1), Solomon Islands (2-1) and Samoa (3-2) before losing to New Zealand (0-6).
Penateti Feke has graduated from the Tonga U-20 team to the senior national squad seamlessly after playing every minute of action at Samoa 2007 and finishing as Tonga's top goalscorer with three strikes to her name including a crucial brace in the victory over the Solomon Islands. Feke is joined in the senior squad by former U-20 team-mate Nasaleti Kalavi.
OFC Women's World Cup Qualifiers
Papua New Guinea 2007
Monday 9 April
New Zealand - Tonga
Papua New Guinea - Solomon Islands
Wednesday 11 April
Solomon Islands - New Zealand
Tonga - Papua New Guinea
Friday 13 April
Tonga - Solomon Islands
Papua New Guinea - New Zealand
Michael Bradley Photography