New Zealand Football Ferns coach Tony Readings is looking forward to getting his team back together for the first time since the Rio Olympics when they contest the Cyprus Cup next week.
The national team departed last night for Cyprus and are focused on delivering a performance that sets the tone for their next four year campaign.
The World No 19 Ferns will play Scotland, Austria and the Korea Republic in their three group matches and Readings said the tournament will be a good benchmark for his team.
“There has been a lot of discussion around the team, but the great thing now is we can focus on why we do it and that is to play football matches and represent our country,” he said.
“We need to focus on winning. This is a great opportunity for us. We haven’t been together as a team for the past eight months. We know that we won’t have much time together to prep but we have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. I can’t wait to get back together as a group to build on what we have achieved in the past and also take some steps forward.”
The Cyprus Cup is a global invitational tournament for national teams in women’s football. It has been held annually in Cyprus since 2008.
New Zealand has never won the tournament – their best result came in 2010 when they finished runner-up to Canada, losing 1-0 in the final.
Readings named three uncapped players – goalkeeper Anna Leat, midfielder Malia Steinmetz and forward Martine Puketapu – in his squad while Paige Satchell is hoping to build on her debut from last year.
He expected the new players would bring high energy and enthusiasm as they look to keep improving and building as a group.
“We know that we did well in the last cycle – we achieved our highest ranking [of World No 16] and we got some great results – but we have some bigger ambitions and expectations as a group,” he said.
“There are some new players coming into the group who we trust will help with that and add a freshness. It is a good opportunity for existing players to kick on and improve and for the new players to come in and show they deserve some opportunities.”
Leat and Satchell certainly showed that in the most recent internationals. Readings led a New Zealand A side to a 2-0 series win over Thailand in Auckland. Fifteen-year-old goalkeeper Leat was superb in the opener at Mt Smart Stadium making a number of telling saves in the 2-0 win.
Satchell was the standout individual in the team’s 3-1 win at Whenuapai when she came from the bench to set up two goals and score another in a complete performance.
Readings believed he would use all of his squad at some stage on this tour.
“The Cyprus Cup is a different beast. You play four games in not a lot of time so how we utilise players and manage them is going to be a really big part of how successful we are. The opportunities for these players to get significant game time is a lot higher on this tour. I am hoping the new players take this opportunity with both hands and are not just there to make up the numbers,” he said.
When the team assembled in December, they talked about how they weren’t just building for the Cyprus Cup but for the 2019 FIFA World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“We want to win games today but we also want to be building over time for those pinnacle events,” he said.
“We made it clear that we are picking our squad with those events in mind. We want a strong and competitive squad with a lot of depth to choose from and these players can help create that.”