While New Zealand start as favourites to win the eight-nation qualifiers and reach the Women’s World Cup finals next June, the Ferns have left no stone unturned in their build-up including bringing all four overseas professionals back to Auckland for the 10-day event.
Captain and new Chelsea signing Hayley Moorwood was already with the team when camp officially began on Monday morning, while USA-based fullback Ali Riley – who scooped the league’s Rookie of the Year award a week ago – arrives early on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after winning the WPS final with her Gold Pride club.
Wolfsburg defender Rebecca Smith arrives from Germany on Tuesday, while Sweden-based midfielder Kirsty Yallop misses Wednesday’s opener but arrives in time to suit up for game two on Friday.
New Zealand coach John Herdman says there is no room for complacency.
“Something like 130 countries entered the qualifiers and only 16 reach the finals in Germany and, with countries like Denmark and Italy already missing out, we know we can’t afford any slip ups.
“You can’t afford to put World Cup qualification at risk. Coming into this event we know the opposition will be tough and while it’s not like playing a USA or Germany there a things on and off the pitch that we are working on getting right while we have this time together.”
As more players sign with clubs overseas, Herdman is expecting chances to assemble his full squad to become fewer and further between and therefore more valuable.
“Once you get into these environments the mood shifts and the players know that they need to get the best out of these camps because they don’t get time together as a group like this very often anymore.”
New Zealand face Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Tahiti in Group A but it is Group B seeds Papua New Guinea, who the Football Ferns beat 2-0 in Port Moresby in 2008 to seal qualification for the Beijing Olympics, who shape up as New Zealand’s biggest threat.
However, Herdman is bracing his side for improved opposition from all the nations involved in the qualifiers.
“It was four years ago in the last World Cup qualifiers since we came up against most of these teams, and a lot of development from OFC has gone into women’s football and into coaching in the region in that time so all the teams will be more organised and more resilient. But that’s great for us and for the region.”
New Zealand’s match against Vanuatu on Wednesday opens the tournament at 1pm followed by Cook Islands taking on Tahiti at 3.30pm.
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football.
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