Linda Bunaga is likely to start in goal for PNG. Photo: OFC
The return leg will be played in Port Moreseby, Papua New Guinea, on Wednesday 4 April with the winner advancing to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament set to take place in the United Kingdom from 25 July to 9 August.
New Zealand were seeded straight through to the play-offs while Papua New Guinea qualified ahead of Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa in the stage one tournament in Tonga earlier this month.
Saturday’s match, hosted by New Zealand Football with the support of Whangarei District Council, kicks off at 5:00pm from Toll Stadium. Tickets can be purchased at the gate and are priced at $5 for adults while children 14 and under are free.
Here’s a look at the action that’s in store.
New Zealand vs. Papua New Guinea – 5:00pm Saturday 31 March
New Zealand go into this match as overwhelming favourites having defeated Papua New Guinea 11-0 in their previous meeting at the 2010 OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Their only encounter in Olympic qualifying was much closer, however, with New Zealand running out 2-0 winners in 2008. The Football Ferns are at full strength this time around with 12 overseas-based players coming in from Australia, USA, Germany, Sweden and the UK. Tony Readings will be hoping Amber Hearn and Sarah Gregorius can keep up their scoring ways after the pair picked up five goals between them at the recent Cyprus Cup. Captain Rebecca Smith, one of six players from the German Bundesliga, provides strong leadership at the back while Chelsea midfielder Hayley Moorwood is the most capped player with 74 internationals to her name. It will be a special moment for striker Hannah Wilkinson and defender Abby Erceg who both hail from Whangarei and will be eager to impress in front of the home crowd.
Papua New Guinea meanwhile will be spearheaded by influential captain Deslyne Siniu who, at 31 years of age, has been involved in both previous Olympic qualifiers in 2004 and 2008. Siniu is one of the most technically gifted players in the squad along with fellow midfielders Daisy Winas and Rumona Morris. Sisters Barbra and Esther Muta may also feature in the midfield, following in the footsteps of brother David Muta who captains the men’s national team. Goalkeepers Linda Bunaga and Fidelma Watpore will be fighting for a starting spot after both securing game time during the stage one qualifier, while in the back line Steven Mune will rely on the composure of Aida Gerota and the experience of Kathrina Salaiau, 35, to keep the Kiwis at bay. The visitors may spend significant periods of the match defending but should also be useful on the counter-attack with towering striker Fatima Rama leading the charge. Papua New Guinea have a proud history in women's history picking up three consecutive gold medals at the four-yearly Pacific Games, formerly known as the South Pacific Games, but a victory over New Zealand remains elusive.
In their own words
"We’re not taking any chances. We know what is at stake and that’s an Olympic Games. The players are coming in from really good environments and it doesn’t take long to get them back in sync and back in the gear that we need them to be for the games. The fact that they’ve come from some of the best leagues in the world means they’re in great shape." - New Zealand coach Tony Readings
"New Zealand are very strong and fast physically but we have prepared well for that. Our ladies are much fitter than they were in the past and are really ready for this game. We don’t want to be too defensive, we want to take them on as well. If we just sit back and wait for them to come at us then they will do that time and time again and we will be defending for most of the game. At this kind of level you need to attack as well. We need to get a good result so that when we go home for the second leg we still have a chance." - Papua New Guinea coach Steven Mune