New Zealand coach Jitka Klimkova knows a thing or two about doing things the hard way. She led her native Czech Republic to the final stages of continental qualifying at youth level on a couple of occasions before being squeezed out by Europe’s traditional women’s football elite at the final hurdle.
Now Klimkova is happily going about the business of building up New Zealand’s next generation for their tilt at the fast-looming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica. It, however, has been a task not without hurdles.
New Zealand’s geographical isolation, as often is the case, has hindered their ability to play international opposition, and to date their collective experience has been a trio of matches against trans-Tasman rivals Australia. New Zealand also head to Costa Rica 2014 without the playing benefits provided by a qualifying campaign.
Klimkova, though, is renowned in the women’s football fraternity for her sunny outlook and the 39-year-old remains sanguine about the Young Football Ferns’ Class of 2014.
The team has, however, benefitted greatly from competing in the recently completed New Zealand national league season. “It was really challenging but we really improved a lot,” Klimkova told FIFA.com. “The goal is to develop the team, not purely results. We tried to play possession style and it was great to see that develop.”
“You can see the results when the players turn in a good performance and they are enjoying themselves on the field.”
While the team lost the majority of matches, their promise was evident with a win over league champions Northern; the only loss suffered by the competition’s top side. “We dominated with a possession style but we lost out in one-on-ones and on the physical side generally,” said Klimkova of her young team’s national league experiences.
Building on history
The tournament holds special significance for New Zealand, with the Oceania nation hosting the first ever event in 2008. Though New Zealand suffered a group-stage elimination, they did claim their maiden victory in a FIFA women's competition. The Young Football Ferns have failed, however, to collect a point at the two following tournaments.
Over the coming week, New Zealand will finally have the opportunity to test their progress with a tough four-nation tournament featuring China PR, Japan and host nation USA. “This is a similar experience to going to the World Cup, so it is a great challenge that I’m excited and grateful about.”
Four players – Daisy Cleverley, Martine Puketapu, Emily Oosterhof, Tayla Christensen - are veterans of Azerbaijan 2012, and Klimkova says “sharing their experiences” is vital among the young group.
The Czech mentor believes her young side have made significant progress from the time she arrived in mid 2013, having concluded a hugely successful two-year spell with Australian W-League side Canberra United.
Klimkova says, with a smile in her voice, that the players needed a few weeks to adjust to her ‘Czechlish’ in reference to her mid-European inflection, but it has been constant improvement ever since.
“Compared to July when I first saw the team there has been really huge progress and I’m very happy with such a positive response from the girls.
“Our goals are to play a positive style of football. It is very different in comparison to working with women but the rewards are enriching I really enjoy working with this age group.”