Tui Dugan playing for Wairarapa United in 2021. PHOTO/FILE

FOOTBALL
CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Tui Dugan is still pinching herself over her selection for next month’s Women’s Under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica.

The former Wairarapa United captain was named in the 21-strong New Zealand squad on Monday, and despite knowing about her selection two weeks ago, she said it’s still  “pretty amazing”.

“I remember thinking last year that this is something I was going to shoot for. It’s pretty surreal that I’ve made it, and it’s exciting,” she said.

Dugan, 19, felt she was out of the system, coming from a small footballing community, but a move to the Wellington Phoenix at the completion of the 2021 W-League season with Wairarapa United, followed by starting a sports scholarship at Arizona State University, drew more attention to her footballing talents.

“I’ve got my foot in the door for a whole lot of opportunities afterwards.

“It’s not just representing my country; it’s putting me out there on the world stage for contracts and everything like that so it’s amazing and it means so much to me.”

She added the significance of starting with Wairarapa United as a raw, talented 15-year-old could not be underestimated, as well as the influence of long-time mentor and friend, Phoenix legend Paul Ifill.

“It put me up against girls who were a lot bigger than me and that was a challenge, especially playing in that league at a young age gave me a head start.

“And of course I could not be anywhere near where I am now without Paul. Having Paul coach at Wairarapa United for all those years was such a big help.”

Dugan had hoped to have Ifill present her with her national shirt tomorrow, possibly the prized number seven, but he is at the Oceania Women’s Nations Cup in Fiji in his role as
Samoan coach.

“I asked him to present my shirt to me, but he doesn’t get back until a couple of days later. I told him a couple of weeks ago, and he’s super proud of me, which is pretty special.”

The Junior Football Ferns depart for Costa Rica on Friday and will play a warm-up match against the hosts before starting their campaign against Mexico. Their pool also includes Germany and Colombia.

Despite being in one of the toughest pools, Dugan rates the team’s chances, with eight of the players being part of the Phoenix A-League team and three from the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Women’s Under-17 World Cup.

“We’re going in as underdogs, but we definitely have a chance, and we have started to work really well together as a team.

“There are a few final pieces that we’ve got missing but we all know the game plan and we’re all super passionate about this team, and we do have a
good chance.

“If can get out of our pool, it’s a whole new ball game and I think we can turn it on if we get out of our pool.”

Dugan has decided not to return to Arizona State University after the tournament, saying the culture of US college soccer wasn’t her scene, and she hopes to attract the attention scouts to secure a
professional contract.

“For my first year it would be good to play in something like the A-League, whether that’s playing for the Phoenix.

“I don’t know whether I’d get a paid contract, but I could be one of the scholarship players in that team. Otherwise I’d be looking overseas at other A-league teams.

“It’s hard right before the World Cup because it’s such a shop window for the pro teams, and they say we’ll keep you in mind, but we’ll be watching the World Cup to take our players from there.”

Dugan will have her own support crew at the World Cup, with parents Niels and Kirsten travelling to Costa Rica for the tournament.

The world under-20 tournament is held every two years but the 2020 tournment that Costa Rica and Panama would have jointly hosted was cancelled because of covid-19.

Costa Rica were then appointed as hosts of the 2022 tournament.

New Zealand play Mexico at 8am [NZT] on Thursday, August 11, Germany at 11am on Sunday, August 14 and Colombia at 11am on Wednesday, August 17.



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