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FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup - U-17s look to top group over Ghana

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

History has already been made by New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup but another chapter could be written on Wednesday morning (NZT) as coach Leon Birnie and his players look to become the first ever team from this country to top their group at a FIFA event.

As well as progressing past pool play of the U-17 Women’s World Cup for the first time, a couple of other records have also been broken by Birnie’s charges in Uruguay. No other New Zealand side had ever won back-to-back matches at a World Cup while progression to the knockout stages had never been secured with a group game still to play. The highest-ever points tally of six has also already been equalled by this ground-breaking set of players.

That puts Birnie and co in unchartered territory as they approach their remaining Group A match against Ghana tomorrow, which will determine who tops the group. The Africans, who will retain first place in the event of a draw, have more experience of facing this type of challenge, having reached at least the quarter-finals of the past four U-17 Women’s World Cups.

Whatever the outcome, history will again be made merely by the teams stepping out onto the pitch as these countries have never met each other before at this tournament.

While a place in the final eight is secure for both sides, topping the group could still prove crucial as it will determine which opponent is faced in the quarter-finals - presenting the New Zealand coaching staff with a unique, but welcome, conundrum.

"If we can win then we’ll finish first in the group, which in theory gives you a better game, but we also need to make sure we get everybody right for the quarter-final," Birnie explains.

"So we’ve got some decisions to make in terms of what we’re going to do in this game. Our job as a coaching staff is to make the best decisions for the players and get them as far as we can in this tournament."

Complicating matters is the fact that three players have picked up yellow cards - and would therefore be handed a suspension by receiving another - while they are a few bumps and bruises in the squad after the gruelling nature of the previous two matches.

Birnie has fielded the same starting line-up in both games but may need to rotate his squad to make sure everyone is fresh and available to play in that all-important quarter-final.

"The main concern is how we back up, we’ve had two big games and put a lot of energy into both," he says.

"Coming into the third game, Ghana is probably not who you want to be facing - they’ve very athletic and that’s their strength. So we’re going to have to recover and do everything right in the build-up to the game and then go out and do the best we can."

Aside from the heroic exploits of New Zealand, Ghana have been the dominant force of Group A so far, thumping hosts Uruguay 5-0 on the opening day before following that up with a 3-1 win over Finland.

Those impressive results and their superior record in this tournament would appear to make them strong favourites tomorrow but coach Evans Adotey is likely to face similar selection headaches to Birnie and may likewise be tempted to rest some of his key players.

The match takes place on Wednesday morning from 9am (NZT) and is live on SKY Sport 3.

Match Details

Ghana vs New Zealand

Estadio Charrúa, Montevideo

Wednesday 21 November, 9am

New Zealand (from): 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Mackenzie Barry, 3. Hannah Mackay-Wright, 4. Aneka Mittendorff, 5. Marisa Van Der Meer, 6. Macey Fraser, 7. Gabi Rennie, 8. Amelia Abbott, 9. Maggie Jenkins, 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown, 12. Jayda Stewart, 13. Britney Cunningham-Lee, 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 16. Maya Hahn, 17. Ayla Pratt, 18. Rose Luxton, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)

Coach: Leon Birnie

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