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Riley ready for Rio

While that star power adds further lustre to what is already a special event, New Zealand fullback Ali Riley has been used to rubbing shoulders with the famous for a very long time.
The Los Angeles-raised Riley attended high school in north Hollywood, where Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks could regularly be seen completing a school drop-off. Riley’s school friends, meanwhile, included actress/models Cody Horn and Lily Collins to name just a few.
“It was an interesting environment to grow up in,” Riley said with no little understatement.
Riley then attended the prestigious Stanford University – an institute renowned for its tradition in football – where she majored in psychology, and successfully captained a team that included future FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winners Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press.
The theme, almost predictably, doesn’t end there, with Riley currently plying her trade at Swedish heavy-hitters Rosengard alongside five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year and Rio 2016 poster-star, Marta.
“I’m proud of her as a friend and team-mate,” Riley says of Marta. “She is a superstar, and it is such a great opportunity for her to shine in her home country. I think she is excited about the preparation and how much they are putting into promoting the tournament in Brazil.”
New Zealand pride themselves on their humility, and Riley is no different. A popular member of the squad, Riley is an energetic and whole-hearted performer on the field, while off it she is chatty with a warm smile rarely far away.
Riley, who like several of her team-mates are entering into their third Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, believes the event is unique. “I’m really excited for the Olympics,” she said.
“The Women’s World Cup is obviously a focus for us soccer players, but there really is nothing like the Olympics. And given Brazil love the game so much, it is a great country to play in of course.”
Riley, now 28, was raised in an LA beachside suburb. Her father, John, a professor of economics, grew up in Christchurch, while her mother, Beverley, is an American of Chinese descent.
Now she will have the opportunity to take on the land of her birth in New Zealand’s tournament opener on Wednesday.
New Zealand could barely have drawn a tougher group after being pitted alongside the reigning gold medallists, European heavyweights France and a rapidly developing Colombia.
Though the Football Ferns are rarely in the headlines, the team back themselves against any opposition. Indeed they grabbed a rare draw on US soil when they tackled the London 2012 winners a couple of years back. “We have a really hard group, but this team is ready to show the world something,” said Riley.
“We have high expectations and we want to show that we can compete with these teams in our group.”
New Zealand will certainly not lack for experience. Incredibly, the Football Ferns have six players, including Riley, who boast a century of caps. “A group of us started out together at the 2006 U-20 World Cup in Russia,” said Riley.
“It’s awesome that we have been on this journey together.
“The evolution of the team has been mind-blowing. It has been a wild ride, and a lot of ups and downs. But mostly just ups, and I don’t think a lot of teams can say they have got better every single year. Not necessarily just based purely on our results, but also our style of play. I’m so proud to be a part of this.
“Looking at how much the game has changed in New Zealand, we have been pioneers. I would love to earn another 100 caps, but when I hang up the boots I know the team will be in good hands.”
Story courtesy of FIFA.com


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