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The Fiji Football Association is hopeful its national team can make history by being the first-ever Pacific Island women's team to qualify for the World Cup.
Fiji's chances have been boosted by last week's announcement that Australia and New Zealand would co-host the 2023 World Cup.
New Zealand and Australia are the only Oceania representatives to compete at a full FIFA Women's World Cup, although Australia is now in the Asia Confederation.
New Zealand have won four consecutive OFC Women's Nations Cup titles to secure Oceania's sole qualifying spot.
But now, by virtue of their successful hosting bids, both countries have automatic slots at the 2023 tournament and there is a possibility their traditional qualifying spots are still open.
CEO Mohammed Yusuf said, if confirmed, this would be tremendous for the Pacific.
“This will give one of the island countries a chance to go to the World Cup directly, and it's a massive push for women's football in the Pacific."”
Despite playing New Zealand in the 2018 final, Yusuf said Fiji were not underestimating other nations.
The association is already looking ahead, with a programme in place to ensure a strong women's national team will compete in future Oceania tournaments.
“With our re-structured programmes of the under 16 girls' league, the under 19 girls, senior women's, it is paying dividends and thus we have time and are able to put up good strong women's national teams.”
Yusuf said Fiji had also opened up eligibility to Fiji nationals residing in Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand.
“It's likely we'll have interest from women who are playing a high level of football in other countries with parents of Fijian origin... it's a great opportunity for our national coach and technical team to look at that and bring the best in to prepare for the OFC qualifiers.”
The next challenge was to organise international games, he added.
“We will now put in a plan but as you know with Covid-19, we can not move out because of travel restrictions. Hopefully this thing clears up world wide so that in 2021 we can take our girls overseas to play at a higher level and to give them the appropriate exposure so that they will be able to compete at that level.”
“Fiji FA will now go into an overdrive to ensure that our girls are well prepared in the next two years, to be able to compete in Oceania and qualify.”
Although the Women's World Cup is expanding from 24 to 32 teams in 2023, OFC President Lambert Maltock said Oceania places were not yet determined. However, it was an opportunity for Oceania nations to aspire to be at a senior World Cup.
“If there is another spot, it will be good for us in Oceania to have another team from the island nations,” he said.
“We don't have anything in place yet so we can't confirm that, but it's a good opportunity for us to be part of a big tournament in our regions. If that does happen it will be a huge push for women's football.”
He said the OFC was determined to grow women's football in the Pacific regions.
“It is becoming a compulsory programme now. FIFA is imposing that as well as OFC and all the member associations in the region, they have the obligation to have investment in women's football so if you don't have any programme in women's football in the region, then you won't get any funding from FIFA. I think that's a very good initiative because we want to see more and more women playing football”.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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