The head coach of the New Zealand women’s national team Tom Sermanni is confident the future of the game in our region is bright and the decision to award the co-hosting rights of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to New Zealand in 2023 will open up exciting opportunities that can propel football in the Pacific to new heights.
The experienced Scotsman, who previously coached the world’s top ranked women’s team the United States, as well as Australia, recently extended his contract for another 12 months with the Football Ferns, to August 2021, which will see him lead the team at the rearranged Tokyo Olympics next year.
OFC Media asked the 66-year old about his thoughts on the state of the women’s game in New Zealand and in Oceania.
What’s your reaction to the Australia and New Zealand FIFA Women’s World Cup co-hosting decision and what impact will the 2023 World Cup have on the development of the women’s game in the region?
I found the lead up to Gianni Infantino’s announcement of the winning bid very tense and stressful and was absolutely thrilled when he uttered the words Australia and New Zealand. I was especially delighted for those who worked so hard on the bid. They were appropriately rewarded for their outstanding efforts.
The result has the potential to positively impact football at every level. It will inspire our elite young players to fulfil their dream of representing the Ferns, encourage girls to take up football as their sport of choice and motivate players of all levels and ages to stay involved in the sport.
What will the Football Ferns need in order to raise the profile of the game both on and off the field between now and the start of the Women’s World Cup in 2023?
Securing the World Cup opens up numerous opportunities for the Ferns to play games on home soil. Under normal circumstances enticing international teams to New Zealand is a challenging exercise. However, we are now in a position where teams will be keen to travel south to experience our environment first-hand.
The World Cup will also open up qualification possibilities for Oceania countries outside of New Zealand. This prospect is a great incentive to initiate serious development programmes. There are also opportunities to host countries and play international matches against countries who will be keen to travel to the region prior to the World Cup.
How important is it for the Ferns to play regular and meaningful matches against quality opponents in the lead up to the World Cup and how confident are you that there will be a sufficient amount of international matches and tournaments to prepare the team?
Playing serious competitive international matches will be a key element of our World Cup preparation and being one of the host countries will make us an attractive opponent. So, there will likely be no shortage of offers to play games.
Successfully managing our preparation within the constraints of the FIFA windows, along with our financial and logistical challenges will be critical.
Having coached Australia, the USA, as well as being part of the Canada national team set up, how would you assess the current standard of the women’s game around the world and how do you rate the Football Ferns in the international context?
The standard of women’s football has accelerated at an unprecedented rate over the past five years. The rise of professional leagues, influx of money and the worldwide profile of the game and individual players has exceeded all possible expectations.
This rapid advance has magnified the difficulties we face in comparison to the traditional football nations. Our geographical location, financial constraints and competition from other major female sports present us with unique challenges to navigate.
Despite this I believe we ‘punch above our weight’ and will continue to do so. Our ability to be creative, willingness to work cooperatively, competitive spirit and connection to our culture are all attributes we demonstrate better than any of our competitors.
How would you assess the Football Ferns’ chances and what would be a successful World Cup for New Zealand?
It is difficult to quantify what would be a successful World Cup campaign. Some key outcomes we should focus on are: producing a brand of football that excites and inspires our supporters, display a ‘never say die’ Kiwi spirit and represent our country on and off the field with great pride and sportsmanship while encompassing a strong connection with our culture and community.