Their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup may be over but goalkeeper Anna Leat says the New Zealand players will still be treating tomorrow’s final group match against hosts Jordan as a must-win.
The Kiwis have so far posted successive losses – 5-0 to Mexico and 2-0 to Spain respectively – and Leat says they are determined not to leave Jordan without a victory to their name.
“I think we’ve done quite well in the first two games,” she said.
“We’ve stuck to our game plan but the results haven’t really gone our way so that would be the one thing we need to improve on. We’re confident and we want to take a win out of this tournament so we’re really going to go hard in this game.”
At just 15, Leat is the youngest member of the New Zealand squad – and one of the youngest from any team at the entire tournament – and has the potential to become an U-17 World Cup veteran as she will also be eligible for the next edition, two years from now in Uruguay.
Despite her tender years, she has been one of New Zealand’s strongest performers in Jordan and put in an inspirational showing against Spain as her side footed it with the European heavyweights, who needed a pair of late goals to get across the line.
“I think we went out there as a team with a game plan and executed that really well,” she said.
“Personally, I just always feel really proud to get to wear the fern with my name on the back. Stepping out onto the pitch with the girls against world-class opposition is just always a really great feeling.”
The quality of Mexico and Spain has been a rise on what Leat and her team mates have experienced in the past but the East Coast Bays custodian said the standard has not taken them by surprise.
“Our preparation was really good, we had a tour to China in which we played good opposition and the staff have done really well to prepare us with all the analysis and everything,” she said.
“So it hasn’t actually felt like too much of a step up, we knew what to expect and have gone out there and done our best. I think we just have to carry on playing our game and wearing the fern with pride.”
Leat and co. had the chance to get away from the stresses of top-class international football earlier this week with a couple of sight-seeing outings.
The breath-taking nature of the Dead Sea and Petra – Jordan’s most spectacular and popular tourist site – have proved the ideal fillip for the disappointment of an early World Cup exit and put the squad in high spirits for the remaining Group A game.
Coach Gareth Turnbull has been proud of the efforts of his charges so far, particularly in the defeat to 2014 runners-up Spain.
While satisfied with their level of performance, Turnbull feels his players will need to make better use of the ball if they are to win the match against Jordan and is hoping for further meetings with high-quality opposition in future.
“I would like to see us be more careful when we do have possession,” he said.
“We don’t have the same experience as our opponents and it’s opportunities like the World Cup that are invaluable for the development of these young players. I think the players will keep on progressing in the years to come. We just need to get some top-level matches against experienced, competitive teams.”
Much of Leat’s experience is actually not in the female game as she plays her club football for a top boys’ side at East Coast Bays on Auckland’s North Shore.
“I’ve played with the boys for the last four years or so and I think it’s been really good because the speed of the ball is quite similar to international level,” she said.
“It’s good to get that sort of quality week-in, week-out.”
She got into football at a young age through her brother and ended up between the sticks purely by chance.
“We used to rotate the person in goal each week and then one day we went to a penalty shoot-out and I made a couple of saves. We won the game and, from then on, I’ve been hooked.”
The talented teen cites former Football Fern Jenny Bindon as having the biggest influence on her burgeoning career.
“Jenny was my first goalkeeping coach when I was 10,” she said.
“She has been a huge part of my footballing journey ever since and was my hero growing up. She has inspired me to achieve as much as I can in football and follow in her footsteps.”
The next step on that path will be another stint in the U-17 national team and Leat is then hoping to graduate to the U-20s with the ultimate aim being the Football Ferns’ number one jersey.
“The goal is always to become a Fern and maybe play professionally overseas one day.”
FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup
New Zealand vs Jordan
Prince Mohammed International Stadium, Al Zarqa
Friday 7 October
Kick-off: 4pm local time (2am, Saturday 8 October NZT)
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football