Maia Jackman says setting high personal standards is the only way forward ahead of the OFC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers – Papua New Guinea 2007 in Lae this week. New Zealand are on a hiding to nothing as overwhelming favourites to secure OFC’s berth at the FIFA Women’s World Cup – China 2007 but Jackman insists complacency won’t creep in.
“It is difficult being favourites. We have to keep a strong mindset in terms of our personal and team standards even if the gap between ourselves and the rest is big. If we qualify for the World Cup our mindset has to be high. If it drops we have the culture within our team to be able to identify it honestly, “Jackman said.
Jackman’s own preparation has been hampered by a serious knee injury and the tall defender says it feels “about 90%”. She came through two matches against male high school XI’s prior to arrival in Papua New Guinea without a problem but is conscious that the month of April will place the integrity of the knee under intense scrutiny.
Shortly after the OFC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, Jackman then has the small matter of appearing for the FIFA Women’s All Stars squad on the eve of the draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup – China 2007 in Wuhan, China on April 22, 2007 alongside some of the best women footballers on earth.
“I have a wee bit of anxiety about the knee and the games that are coming up and I’m uncertain if I will play in all three games at this tournament. The FIFA match on the 22nd April is important to me personally because I have had the experience of two previous World Cup campaigns. When you play for your country or in that sort of company you want to be sure you can do your best,” Jackman said.
The 31-year-old is adamant that whatever capacity she plays in this campaign she will try to add as much value as possible both on and off the pitch. And in a long and rewarding football career Jackman says that the standard of New Zealand women’s football is poised to explode.
“If you look at the players New Zealand is producing now, you can see that they are much better physically and mentally than when I started. Their tactical awareness is also much higher. New Zealand Soccer and Oceania Football Confederation have contributed a lot to this and you can see the improvement happening already. When I started there were maybe only one or two players who were operating at that level, now its most of them.”
New Zealand’s preparation was interrupted by the sudden resignation of top coach Allan Jones following a 1-0 defeat against Australia leaving the post vacant and question marks over who might take over. Jackman says the exit of Jones came as quite a blow but that the introduction of former New Zealand U-20 Women’s coach John Herdman was a masterstroke.
“Allan leaving left most of us thinking, `Oh my God, not again’, as we’ve had a number of coaches come and go. But John (Herdman) made the transition easy; he is very player focused and is a good coach of women footballers and consistently draws out their best performances. John has come in and made a very positive start, clear, transparent and honest; it’s almost like nothing (Allan Jones leaving) happened.”
Jackman’s status as an international veteran of the women’s game in New Zealand gives her the perfect vantage point to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the domestic and international game. Questioned whether or not she thought the improvement in international standards was being replicated at club and grassroots level, she hesitates.
“The women’s game has moved forward in New Zealand…at some clubs. For example, Three Kings struggled to fill their vacant coaching position last season and they are a top women’s club. In other clubs sometimes you get a passionate coach but they don’t possess the right technical knowledge.”
Jackman says although the US college system has helped fire New Zealand women’s football forward, she says there are players in the US playing at 2nd or 3rd tier level who might be better off starring locally.
“I had the chance to go to the US a few years ago when my mum spoke to a few colleges over there but nothing came of it. Within two or three years girls started taking that pathway and I did experience some sense of envy. But I’m happy with the career I have carved out.”
With the chance to star at the OFC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Papua New Guinea and an opportunity with the FIFA Women’s All Stars and a slot at the FIFA World Cup – China 2007 beckoning, Jackman can look back on her career with satisfaction and optimism that the best may be yet to come.
16 teams will make up the field at the FIFA Women’s World Cup – China 2007 which is to be played in Shangi, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Wuhan. New Zealand’s path to China begins on Monday April 9 against Tonga kickoff at 11:00am local time. Host nation Papua New Guinea play Solomon Islands at 1:30pm in the second match at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium.