U20 World Cup countdown
Our preview to the Port Moresby women’s soccer tournament
With women’s sport gaining momentum around the world, there has never been a better time for Papua New Guinea to host the eighth FIFA Women’s Under 20 World Cup. The best young talent women’s football (soccer) has got to offer will be on show in Port Moresby from November 13, when PNG takes on Brazil in the opening match under lights at the newly refurbished Sir John Guise Stadium. PNG has earned its place in the competition because it is the host nation and will go into the competition as an underdog. The 16 teams include perennial winners Germany and the United States, who have each won the global championship three times. Only Korea DPR has come between them when it won in 2006 in Russia. The young woman regarded as the world’s best in her age group, Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius, who shone in the UEFA Under 19 championships last year, will be there.
She dominated in the final, producing some incisive runs to score two goals and assist in the third for her team’s 3–1 demolition of Spain to finish that tournament with six goals from four appearances.
Her performance triggered Spain’s coach Jorge Vilda to comment that it was like playing against Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
“You just can’t keep a player like that quiet for 90 minutes,” Vilda said. “If one player is so much better than the rest, you just can’t stop them.”
We’re trying to go from having zero experience to gaining a lot of experience in a short amount of time. –PNG COACH
Fans are in store for something special from Blackstenius again in November. Sweden, making only its second appearance in the Under 20 World Cup, is in Group A along with PNG, so their match on November 16 will be one to savour. The so-called ‘pool of death’ for this World Cup would appear to be Group B with Canada, Japan, Nigeria and Spain fighting it out. Nigeria (ranked No. 4) in the world at this age level, made the finals in 2010 and 2014; Spain showed that by reaching the Under 19 UEFA final last year it will be a real threat; Canada (No. 8) was runner-up in 2002 when it hosted the tournament and a quarter-finalist in 2014; while Japan (No. 9), finished third in 2012. Support for the tournament is quickly building in PNG, particularly from the football-mad provinces of Morobe, Madang and Milne Bay.
Since the successful hosting of the OFC Nations Cup and the Tri-Nations series between PNG, Japan and the US, in May, World Cup fever is on the march.
At grass roots level, FIFA recently launched legacy programs ‘Live Your Goals’ and ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ which embraces schools, trainers and the general population of Port Moresby, and will endure beyond the three weeks of the tournament.
Organisers are hoping that the players from the visiting teams can be seen as role models whose stories inspire PNG’s young women and girls to excel in their respective careers.
David Chung, PNG Football Association president, says gender equality remains a significant social challenge in the country.
“We hope this tournament will create further awareness and promote change towards a more egalitarian society,” he says.
PNG coach Lisa Cole says her inexperienced players gained a lot of knowledge in their matches against Japan and the US, in which they lost by 10-goal margins.
“We’re trying to go from having zero experience to gaining a lot of experience in a short amount of time.”
The team will be working hard with at least 15 matches lined up in tours of Australia and New Zealand during September and October in the leadup to the World Cup.
Meanwhile, PNG’s national emblem, the colourful bird of paradise, is the official mascot for the World Cup, and has been nicknamed Susa, which means sister.
For the full schedule of matches and more details about the tournament see fifa.com/u20womensworldcup/
Best foot forward ... Under 20 FIFA Women’s World Cup action from the previous torunament two years ago (left); Susa, the mascot for the PNG event, steps out in Port Moresby (above).
Winners ... the triumphant German team in 2014 (above); PNG coach Lisa Cole with her squad of players.