A lot has happened in the last four years regarding the development of women’s football in New Zealand, but even so Paul Temple finds his team in a markedly similar position to 2008, except for one significant difference.
Hosting the very first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the Young Football Ferns struggled initially, losing their first two games to see them eliminated following a 2-1 defeat to Denmark. A 3-0 defeat to Japan on Wednesday leaves them again with on zero points with one to play, but this time out there’s still a shot at reaching the quarter-finals should they beat Brazil.
“If we get a few goals and Japan do us a favour then anything’s possible,” Temple told FIFA.com. “It’s good that we have something riding on the last game because it gives us the motivation for us to put in a performance a bit more worthy.
“I think the first game [against Mexico] we were really under par from what we are usually like, but [against Japan] I think defensively we were way better so in the next game we have to be attacking much better than we have been.”
A win in their last game of 2008 provided a more satisfying exit from the competition, and no doubt the well-dressed and well-spoken Temple will be disappointed should they fall short of that mark on Sunday after a lot of work at grassroots level across New Zealand. However he admits developing faster than those around them is a constant challenge.
“The game [in New Zealand has] completely changed and we’re making lots of good progress in different areas but the game evolves at the same time as we do,” he said. “It’s quite difficult to get ahead of the game and keep climbing the ladder but we’re definitely doing a good job.”
The introduction of National Talent Centres, spread across the country in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, has allowed a more focussed and coordinated approach to finding and nurturing talent, with this team its first generation. However, because the likes of netball and hockey are more popular pursuits in New Zealand, football doesn’t get the same recognition as elsewhere, which Temple admits provides “a pretty hard battle”.
The fact that New Zealand’s women are ranked higher than the men does mean the funding is split more evenly than in a lot of countries, but even so the Young Football Ferns coach admits battling against the “phenomenal” investment in other countries is tough. “At the end of the day it always comes down to whether you have got the money.
“Have you got the resources, have you got the facilities and compared to who we’re playing against we’re quite low down. It’s a challenge for us but we have great people who work in the organisation, a lot of passion and our players work really hard so we do the best with what we have.”
Having been within the women’s set-up since 2005, joining in his mid-20s, Temple has worked across the U-17s, U-20s and senior women’s side. Over time he has found himself most at home amongst the youngest selection and has grown into the role.
“I really enjoy this age group and trying to create players for the future, so I guess it’s that kind of youth development. I feel like I’ve got to a point where I’m more comfortable with what I want to try and get out of the players and try to achieve.”
Taking part in the likes of Azerbaijan 2012 also gives him the opportunity to grow and develop not just the team, but also himself and the coaching methods they try to employ. “Tournaments like this are great for exposure, testing yourself, then going back and working on the things you need to do. It also gives us an opportunity to network and speak with other coaches to see how they work with their players.”
A win against Brazil at 8km Stadium in Baku may just allow them a little longer to grow, as well as provide a satisfying piece of tangible evidence that four years of work has been worthwhile.