New Zealand coach Leon Birnie has named an exciting squad to contest the OFC U-16 Championship in Samoa next month. Among the 18-strong squad are Wellington United midfielders, Maya Hahn and Maggie Jenkins.
The tournament, which will be staged from 4 – 25 August, is the first step for many of the national squad competing in international football as they look to qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay which will be held in November – December next year.
The OFC U-17 Women’s Championship has changed to the OFC U-16 Championship in 2017 to better align with the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the following year.
Birnie, who earlier this year changed roles with NZ U-20 coach Gareth Turnbull to take the New Zealand U-17s, said his coaching team have gone through a robust selection process. They staged observational games across all seven federations, held training camps and time at the NTC’s before a final camp here in Auckland to complete the selection process.
“The selection process has been tough,” said Birnie. “There is a huge amount of depth within this group and we have had to have some difficult conversations, but we are excited with the squad we have selected and the challenge ahead.”
New Zealand is the most successful team in the history of the championship which was first introduced in 2010. They have won all three titles in that time and last year defeated Papua New Guinea 8-0 in the final to book their place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Jordan.
New Zealand has enjoyed good success on the world stage in recent years with both the New Zealand U-17s (5-0 win over Jordan) and New Zealand U-20s (1-0 win over Ghana) achieving the goal of winning on the world stage. The age grade OFC Championships and FIFA World Cups are an important stepping stone.
“The ultimate goal is to create future Football Ferns and I am confident that we have the quality in this squad that in time they have the ability to go on and represent the Ferns. This tournament is another step in their development and a chance to show their ability.”
New Zealand will open their campaign against Samoa in Group A and then will meet New Caledonia, Tahiti and Tonga as they look to qualify for the semi-finals. Birnie knows his team will be favourites to claim the title.
“I don’t think it matters too much who you are playing there are going to be huge challenges when you are playing international football,” he said. “For many of these girls it is the first time that they will pull on the New Zealand shirt and that comes with its own pressures and challenges.
“It is a long time away in Samoa and playing in the islands always present unique challenges. So as a support staff it is important that we create a stable and supportive environment where the girls can perform at their best. I am sure they will do well.”
Birnie said he is enjoying his new role with the NZ U-17s and is excited to take a talented group of girls to a big tournament and continue their development.
“I just love coaching football whether that is with the U-17s or the U-20s I don’t really mind. We have a great group of girls to work with here. They have all been working hard and they are pretty excited to represent New Zealand at this tournament and hopefully qualify for the World Cup.”
New Zealand team to contest the OFC U-16 Championship
Georgia Candy, Hamilton Wanderers
Rylee Godbold, Claudelands Rovers
Aneka Mittendorff, Forrest Hill Milford
Amy Waters, Eastern Suburbs
Hannah Mackay-Wright, Glenfield Rovers
Shannon Trebes, Hamilton Wanderers
Mackenzie Barry, New Plymouth Girls High School
Macey Fraser, Waimakariri United
Margaret Jenkins, Wellington United
Margot Ramsay, Western Springs
Maya Hahn, Wellington United
Aniela Jensen, Palmerston North Marist
Arabella Maynard, Forrest Hill Milford
Jayda Stewart, FC Twenty 11
Gabrielle Rennie, Waimakariri United
Kelli Brown, Claudelands Rovers
Britney Cunningham-Lee, Hamilton Wanderers
Grace Wisnewski, Hamilton Wanderers
OFC U-16 Championship
When: 4 – 25 August
What: Qualifying Event for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay
Defending champions: New Zealand
– New Zealand Football