Alfeld: Japan will be a huge challenge
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New Zealand goalkeeper Lily Alfeld can look back with pride on her nation’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 opener on Sunday, as her impressive saves were instrumental in the Kiwis avoiding a much heavier defeat than the 1-0 reverse they suffered. Many of her fine stops were reminiscent of her idol, Hope Solo, particularly those that denied Mexican forwards Taylor Alvarado and Samantha Arellano.

However, despite laughingly acknowledging that she was congratulated for her display by her team-mates after the match, Alfeld rejects the idea that she should be viewed as the team’s saviour. “Actually, I didn’t save the team. Everyone gave 100 per cent. It was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” she said modestly.

Although the loss to El Tri has made progress from Group C significantly more complicated for the New Zealanders, especially given that Brazil and Japan make up the section, the smiling young custodian did not hesitate to meet up with FIFA.com to discuss what is now her second FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup campaign, having travelled to Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 as third-choice ‘keeper.

“The facilities are amazing, and there was a huge amount of people packed behind the goal during our game. It was very exciting to play in front of such a big crowd,” she said with great enthusiasm in her voice. In fact, almost 3,000 fans filled Bayil Stadium in Baku, and they gave Alfeld’s performance the acclaim it deserved.

“It’s just fantastic, being so young and being able to cross the globe to play against these world-class teams. For those of us who want to go to university, turn professional or play for the senior national side, it’s something that will really help us in the future,” she continued.

It’s just fantastic, being so young and being able to cross the globe to play against these world-class teams.
Lily Alfeld, New Zealand goalkeeper

In Alfeld’s case, she dreams of attending college in the United States, and of playing in Europe and with New Zealand’s full team, but before all that, Azerbaijan 2012 is her immediate focus. The Oceania representatives’ next fixture is against the formidable-looking Japanese, who currently top the table after seeing off Brazil 5-0 in Group C’s other match.

“We’re looking forward to playing them. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re confident of putting in a better performance and picking up a win. I think we can do it. We’re certainly capable of winning,” she said with conviction.

Passing amongst friends
The Young Football Ferns will need to score to keep their tournament hopes alive, and to achieve that they will rely on a style that is closer to the Nadeshiko’s natural approach rather than that traditionally associated with New Zealand.

“Now we concentrate more on passing than the direct, long-ball game that people usually label us with. In fact, we try our best to build from the back,” said the talented young shot-stopper.

Another crucial strength that this New Zealand side possesses is unity, as Alfeld explains: “There’s a great feeling of togetherness within the team – we’re always in each other’s company, and I think that building bonds in that way helps a lot.”

There is no doubt that these qualities will be very useful against the Brazilians who, in spite of their poor start to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, can draw inspiration from their performances at the recent South American U-17 Women’s Championship, during which they won every game, scoring an incredible 33 goals and conceding just three.

Such statistics do not appear to worry Alfeld, who prefers to look on the positive side, her delight at facing A Seleção Brasileira evident in her voice. “It’s incredible to take on a country so well known for playing football,” she remarked.

Be it versus Japan in their second match or against Brazil in their third and final group game, New Zealand will require their on-form ‘keeper to deliver her best impersonation of Hope Solo once more if they are to have any chance of advancing in the competition.