Ria Percival undoubtedly belongs to the latest generation of top-class players emerging in the women’s game, yet just days shy of turning 23, she also counts as one of the old hands in the New Zealand squad. On 14 November 2006, Percival earned the first of her 76 international caps with the Football Ferns. Later, aged just 21 years and 94 days, she wrote her name into the record books by becoming the youngest ever player to make 50 appearances for her country’s senior women’s side.
The 22-year-old, who will celebrate her birthday on 7 December, has been strutting her stuff in Germany’s Women’s Bundesliga since last summer, the realisation of a long-awaited ambition. “I always said Germany would be my dream place to play. I always wanted to play here,” she told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
After the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, Percival was snapped up by 1. FFC Frankfurt, with whom she went on to reach the final of the UEFA Champions League in May this year. Around the same time, Percival announced she would be joining FF USV Jena, where she has set herself an ambitious target. “When I agreed to play for Jena, my first goal was that I wanted to bring the team up to mid-table.
"Last year they were pretty much on the road to being relegated from the league," continued the defender. "I really wanted to be able to make a difference to the side and to be more of a leader, as it’s a quite young team here. We’re in a good position in the standings at the moment and where we finish will depend on how we play in the second half of the season.”
Next tournament in sight
Percival is convinced that it is not only her new club that is on the right track, but also the women’s game in general. “Women’s football is developing and now other sides are catching up to the top teams in the world. It gets a lot more recognition from a lot of people and they take more interest. When you look at the youth teams and the young players coming through, there’s a lot more quality and development than there used to be.”
Given her considerable experience, Percival clearly knows what she is talking about. On the way to making her 76 appearances for New Zealand, she played in two FIFA Women’s World Cups, two FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups and two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments. Percival was once again on fine form during her most recent outing on the international stage, at London 2012.
“Being at the quarter-finals of the Olympics was a massive step for us," she said. "We made history back in New Zealand. We’ve developed a lot and we’re on a different level than we were six years ago. When you look at how we performed and the results we got, we can start focusing on the next big event.”
That will come in Canada 2015 with the seventh edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The good-humoured New Zealander is sure her country will be among the participants and believes they are capable of causing a few upsets. She knows from experience that anything is possible in football and even the best teams can be beaten.
Yet in the meantime, Percival has plenty of aims she wishes to fulfil. “My dream would be to play in as many of the best leagues in the world as I can. But I also want to achieve more with the national team at big events.
"It was a big step we took at the Olympic Games and I’m looking forward to the next World Cup and the next Olympics," she went on. "I really want to be able to go further with the national team and achieve more than we already have. Another thing I want to achieve is to become one of the best female footballers in the world."
Currently in that category are Christine Sinclair and Abby Wambach, and the duo are Percival’s favourites to be honoured at the forthcoming FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. Considering the youngster’s accomplishments in her relatively short career span so far, it would be no surprise to see her there in the not too distant future.