NZ U-17 forward Kelli Brown says the team is looking to seize their moment on the world stage in their FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal against Japan.
The 17-year-old from Hamilton Wanderers has been a star turn in her first FIFA World Cup. She scored a stunning goal against Finland to open the tournament and tucked home the winner in the come-from-behind victory over hosts Uruguay to confirm their quarterfinal berth.
Head coach Leon Birnie made eight changes for their final pool game against Ghana, with three players on yellow cards, and they went down 2-0 to the African nation. The team has regrouped and are ready to take on the undefeated Japan, who topped Group B on goal difference from Mexico after one win and two draws.
“We are buzzing and ready to go,” said Brown. “We are excited for what we have ahead. If we are able to win this game then we will be creating history for all New Zealand Football age group teams so it’s pretty pumping.”
Brown said the team knows the challenge they face against Japan. They have respect for their opposition, but also belief they can upset them.
“We know they are a good team. We are expecting them to be quite fast and nippy on the ball, but I don’t think there is anything stopping our girls to be able to shut them down and hopefully take some opportunities when they come. It will be a good game. We have had a chance to regroup [after the Ghana game]. To be able to get most of the girls out on the pitch as well to experience the feeling of playing at a World Cup is an awesome thing to see. Everyone is pumping and ready to go.”
Brown said the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup has been a surreal experience for her and the team. She will never forget the feeling of upsetting the host nation Uruguay.
“It was a crazy experience and an amazing feeling for all the girls. It was cool to play in front of such a big crowd against Uruguay – it is the first World Cup for most of us – to be able to take the win against the host nation was an amazing feeling,” she said.
And it has been even better for Brown herself. The WaiBOP forward scored two goals from two games and currently is third equal on the Golden Boot standings, four goals behind the runaway leader Mukarama Abdulai (Ghana) with six.
“It is a crazy feeling and it is very humbling. To not only be able to play for my country but score a goal as well. Everything becomes that bit more real when you are able to sink the ball in the back of the net. It is completing a childhood dream.”
Brown said the team have been blown away by the support back home. There is a sense within the team that they are part of something special.
“Being able to see the support back home, when we all get back to the team hotel and get on the WIFI and see social media blowing up about the game we have just played. It is an amazing feeling. It is really cool to be able to make everyone back home proud. To be able to make history for the NZ U-17s was one thing in itself, but knowing that we are so close to making some more history, it is very humbling and exciting.”
FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal
Japan vs New Zealand
Estadio Alberto Suppici, Colonia Del Sacramento
Sunday 25 November, 9am
Live on SKY Sport 4
New Zealand (from): 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Mackenzie Barry, 3. Hannah Mackay-Wright, 4. Aneka Mittendorff, 5. Marisa Van Der Meer, 6. Macey Fraser, 7. Gabi Rennie, 8. Amelia Abbott, 9. Maggie Jenkins, 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown, 12. Jayda Stewart, 13. Britney Cunningham-Lee, 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 16. Maya Hahn, 17. Ayla Pratt, 18. Rose Luxton, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)
Coach: Leon Birnie