With just over 18 months to go until the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023TM Australia and New Zealand, the race to prepare for the qualifiers is heating up across the region.
New coaches have been announced for New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji in recent weeks, each bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and experience of both the international and regional women’s football landscapes.
Fiji has secured the services of former Antigua and Barbuda Football Association’s Director of Women’s Football and coach of the women’s national team, ranked 167th in the FIFA Rankings, Lisa Cole.
Cole’s first experience in the region was at the helm of the Papua New Guinea U-20 women’s national team in the lead-up to and during the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, which was hosted in Papua New Guinea in 2016.
Although the side did not win any of it’s matches, Cole oversaw an exciting chapter in Papua New Guinea women’s football as the squad performed valiantly on the world stage, scoring the first world cup goal courtesy of a Nicolette Ageva wonder strike against eventual winners Korea DPR.
Cole is also renowned in US Soccer coaching circles for her work as a coach instructor, and as assistant coach for the U-17 women’s national team in 2018. The former goalkeeper has also held roles in both the Women’s Professional Soccer and National Women’s Soccer League professional leagues as both assistant and head coach.
She’s worked under former US women’s national team coach Tony DiCicco, who led the team to Olympic gold medal in 1996 and the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup title, and former Dutch international turned coach Vera Pauw, who has been in charge of the Republic of Ireland since 2019.
Cole will replace outgoing coach Marika Rodu, who led the side to new heights during his tenure including a historic victory over Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals of the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup, and has stated her excitement at taking up this new opportunity with Fiji.
The contract is for an initial eight month period, with an extension based on the side’s success at the Oceania qualifier for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Taking on the head coach role in Papua New Guinea is former OFC Women’s Football Development Officer, Nicola Demaine.
The England-born Demaine has most recently been based in Australia where she’s served as U-14 girls coach with Football Queensland. Since departing from her role with the Oceania Football Confederation, Demaine has held a number of sporting director roles at schools in Auckland, New Zealand as well as working with local clubs Papakura FC and Ellerslie AFC.
Her international experience has also played out in the Pacific region, having taken on a coaching role with the Papua New Guinea U-15 women’s team for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, as well as leading Samoa at the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup and the 2019 Pacific Games.
Like Cole, Demaine also has links to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea, where she was a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group, led by Vera Pauw.
Demaine remains in Australia as her visa is sorted, entrusting the recent training camps and trials to be overseen by PNGFA development officer Margaret Aka.
In the Solomon Islands, interim coach Batram Suri has been handed the reigns full-time as the governing body looks to bring stability to the side’s preparations.
A former Solomon Islands international, Suri played for clubs across Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Zealand including the Football Kingz, the first professional club based out of New Zealand to play in Australia’s top tier league.
As a coach, Suri has had domestic success with clubs in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, while also taking on duties with the Solomon Islands U-23 squads in 2012 and 2019, and leading the 2018 U-19 men’s side during the World Cup qualifier in Tahiti.
Although it will be Suri’s first outing as head coach of a women’s team, he is excited about the opportunity it offers to extend his skills as a coach.
“It’s challenging and humbling to work with women, especially as working with women is not easy,” the newly appointed coach said.
“I have to face it and work hard in order for them to improve, especially as so far they haven’t created any results yet in women’s development. We’ll need to get them improved as we go and take on the challenges but at the same time prepare to challenge the teams from overseas.”
Suri said he has already witnessed marked improvements between the first camp and more recent training camps and expects that to continue as the preparations heat up.
Finally, New Caledonia has taken an internal approach to their preparations, appointing Michel Berbeche as coach.
Berbeche is the Fédération Calédonienne de Football and Fédération Française de Football Conseiller Technique Régional en charge de la Formation, or regional technical advisor and head of coach education.
A former player with Olympique Avignonnais, Berbeche joined FCF in 2019 and despite moving into a coach education pathway, boasts what would no doubt be a career highlight of accompanying the France U-17 women’s national team as an observer at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2012.
France won that competition with a side featuring some of the biggest names in French women’s football such as current national team players Griedge Mbock-Bathy, Kadidiatou Diani and Delphine Cascarino.
Berbeche has already appointed his staff, outlined a preparation plan that will see the extended squad meet in February 2022, and identified two key objectives.
“The first is purely sporting, and the second is the future,” Berbeche said.
“The first objective is to do absolutely everything possible to qualify. That will be hard, we shouldn’t hide that, but the games remain to be played.
“The second objective, is to train – and train well – the staff who are with me, so in the medium term they can then take the reins of a national team.”
Berbeche has been working with former coaches and colleagues at FCF to determine players who have already been involved with the national team. To date they have a pre-list of around 60 players with amendments expected as the squad starts training and players indicate their availability.
With the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, which serves as the regional world cup qualifier, scheduled for the 5-31 July 2022, the sides who are taking qualification for an historic expanded tournament in Australia and New Zealand 2023 seriously have signalled their intent.