Erceg was sent off in the 86th minute of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Colombia but the FIFA Disciplinary Committee overturned the decision after New Zealand Football appealed the red card and subsequent suspension.
It leaves the 129 cap veteran free to play against France in a match New Zealand must win or draw to secure progression to the quarterfinals – a stage they reached in 2012.
New Zealand could even qualify as one of two best third placed teams should they lose to the world number three but they would have to rely on results elsewhere going their way.
Erceg was lost for words when she found out her controversial red card would be overturned and admits she nearly shed a few tears of joy on hearing the good news.
The inspirational captain of the Oceania champions has endured a nervous couple of days after her dismissal in Sunday’s match was appealed by management to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and is relieved to have received a positive outcome.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Erceg said.
“Our staff have put in a massive effort behind the scenes to ensure that justice was served. I’m overwhelmed and almost cried when I was first told the news.”
Coach Tony Readings was desperate not to lose the services of Erceg though suspension and is delighted his skipper will now be available for tomorrow’s vital meeting with France.
“It’s the best news we’ve had for a long time and means a lot to the team,” he says.
“She’s a massive part of this team and it would have been very undeserved if she wasn’t able to play in the next game because she didn’t do anything wrong. We’re really grateful to FIFA for over-turning the decision and I think it’s really good for the game that they’ve been able to do that.”
Erceg was given her marching orders in unjust fashion in the final minutes of the 1-0 win over Colombia after attacker Tatiana Ariza went down under what appeared to be an innocuous challenge.
New Zealand went on to close out the victory without their captain after goalkeeper Erin Nayler pulled off a stunning save from the resulting free kick. But, if the sending off had been allowed to stand, they would not have been able to field Erceg for the French encounter, in which New Zealand need to secure a positive outcome to ensure their progression past the group stages.
“Relief is the key word,” the three-time Olympian says.
“I definitely felt that a bit of injustice had been dealt my way and, after putting in such an effort to get to the Olympics, it would have been a shame to miss out. It’s been such a roller coaster over the last couple of days so I’m thrilled to finally know that I’ll be playing.”
Erceg will not allow herself long to soak up the satisfaction of the decision though as the challenge posed by France must be the focus.
“It’s straight back to work – the girls know what needs to be done and we’ll be well prepared going into the game,” she says.
“We know that they’re going to be a very competitive side so we just have to bring that winning momentum from the last game. I really do believe we can progress to the next stage.”
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football