Women’s football takes centre stage in New Zealand this week, as the Football Ferns gear up to host world champions the USA in two matches.

The first takes place at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Wednesday January 18, then the second at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday January 21. Both matches are expected to set record crowd numbers for a women’s international match in the Oceania region.

It is the first time the Americans have played in the Oceania region and is part of the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, which is being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

Football Ferns captain Ali Riley said that “this camp has given us so much opportunity to grow.”

“We’ve been improving every day and the players are so dedicated. We have a really good group and good cohesion that we’re working on every day but playing the US will be a real challenge.”

New Zealand’s record against the USA is played 19, won one, drawn one, lost 17, with the US scoring 73 goals and New Zealand scoring just seven. The US have won the last four meetings by five goal margins.

New Zealand coach Jitka Klimková has named several debutants in her squad, including England-based Grace Neville and Grace Wisnewski of Wellington Phoenix FC.

“That’s what’s so special about Kiwis, we’re really welcoming and it feels like I know them already from just the two days. I think they’re holding the standard in a really professional way and I think we’re going to need that in these games,” said Riley.

Meanwhile, the US are expected to field a very strong side despite some of their best players missing the trip. Alex Morgan and captain Becky Sauerbrunn have both played over 200 internationals, while Trinity Rodman, the daughter of former Chicago Bulls NBA star Dennis Rodman, is expected to line up in the forwards.

The US haven’t had it all their own way lately, though. The back end of last year saw them lose three matches, against England and Spain in October and then Germany in November.

New Zealand squad:

Lily Alfeld; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (0 games /0 goals)

Elizabeth Anton; Perth Glory, Australia (15/0)

Mackenzie Barry; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (3/0)

Hannah Blake; University of Michigan, USA (6/0)

Olivia Chance; Celtic FC, Scotland (37/2)

Daisy Cleverley; HB Køge, Denmark (24/2)

Ava Collins; St John’s University, USA (7/0)

Anna Green; Sydney FC, Australia (80/8)

Ally Green; Vålerenga, Norway (2/0)

Jacqui Hand; Åland United, Finland (10/1)

Betsy Hassett; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (137/14)^

Deven Jackson; Eastern Suburbs AFC, NZ (0/0)*

Grace Jale; Canberra United, Australia (10/2)

Aniela Jensen; University of the Pacific, USA (0/0)

Rebecca Lake; Canterbury United Pride, NZ (0/0)*

Erin Nayler; IFK Norrköping, Sweden (78/0)

Grace Neville; London City Lionesses, England (0/0)*^

Tayla O’Brien; Eastern Suburbs AFC, NZ (0/0)*

Jana Radosavljevic; DSC Arminia Bielefeld, Germany (3/0)

Gabi Rennie; Arizona State University, USA (18/2)

Ali Riley; Angel City FC, USA (147/2)

Emma Rolston; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (14/6)

Paige Satchell; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (35/2)

Murphy Sheaff; Jacksonville University, USA (0/0)*

Ashleigh Ward; Southampton FC, England (2/0)

Grace Wisnewski; Wellington Phoenix FC, NZ (0/0)

* Debut squad

^ Available only for the 18 January game