"What really counts is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." This quote, borrowed from former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is Annalie Longo's favourite, and it has certainly proved an apt motto for the midfielder's career thus far.
After all, while Longo measures in at a mere 154 centimetres and will not turn 17 for another three months, the Kiwi prodigy affectionately nicknamed 'Flea' by her team-mates has not allowed slight stature or tender years to prevent her scaling unprecedented heights. The talented playmaker was already in the record books as New Zealand's youngest-ever senior international, in fact, when she last year became the second-youngest player from any country, and of either sex, to appear at a senior FIFA World Cup.
Not that China 2007 was Longo's first taste of a global showpiece. The previous year, aged just 15, she played in all three of New Zealand's matches at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia, starting the 0-0 draw with Brazil that saw John Herdman's young side become only the second Kiwi team to take a point at a FIFA finals.
Yet even for a player in the habit of making history, this year
promises to be a little special. After all, as an integral part of
the Olympic squad limbering up for Beijing, and as the undisputed
star of the team preparing to do battle on home soil in the FIFA
U-17 Women's World Cup, Longo has within her grasp a
unprecedented 'full house' of FIFA women's tournaments.
All going well, the Auckland teenager could even cap a whirlwind year by heading straight from New Zealand 2008 to appear at her second FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile; her fifth world finals overall - and all within three years of becoming involved in the national set-up. Indeed, as Longo revealed to FIFA.com, so meteoric has her rise been that she played her first FIFA World Cup for a team that, just a year earlier, she did not even know existed.
"Russia was fantastic," she recalled. "
Longo's love affair with the beautiful game had begun 11 years earlier, when she grew frustrated at watching her elder brothers play for Auckland side Three Kings United and insisted on being enrolled herself. Soon after, she commenced a nine-year spell at 'Wynrs', Wynton Rufer's Soccer School of Excellence, during which she successfully honed her natural ability to the extent that the national selectors were quickly alerted.
And as if her story was not remarkable enough, Longo, while combining her schoolwork with evening training sessions for New Zealand's U-17, U-20, Olympic and senior squads, has still managed to find the time and energy to excel in another activity. Indeed, when she was nominated for New Zealand Young Performer of the Year, it was not for her football ability, but rather her tap-dancing skills.
She said: "It's crazy right now because I still have
dancing commitments as well as my football, but I can't
complain because I love both so much. And I definitely think the
dancing helps my football. It's all about footwork and
co-ordination and obviously those are things you can take on to the
Paul Temple, Longo's coach at U-17 level, certainly has no doubts over Longo's pre-eminent position within his squad. "She excels from a technical point of view," he says of the playmaker. "She's got a rare ability to be composed under pressure, she retains the ball well and she has very good balance. That separates her from a lot of the other players."
Nevertheless, the 16-year-old is taking nothing for granted herself and while keen to carve her name deeper into football's record books, she remains intent on taking everything in her stride. She said: "I'd love to get this full house as it would be a bit of history; something no-one's ever managed before. But it's not taking over my life. I'm just delighted to be involved in whatever tournaments I'm selected for."
One point on which Longo is adamant is that, regardless of her
progress at senior and Olympic level, the prospect of focusing on
these teams at the expense of October's inaugural FIFA U-17
Women's World Cup was never an option.
"Oh no, there's no way I'd miss that one," she insisted. "
As for Longo herself, this potentially record-breaking year
seems likely to be her last in New Zealand for the foreseeable
future, with the tantalising prospect of a career in the US or
Sweden already beckoning. "My ambition is to go to play and
study at a university in one of those countries, probably America,
and that's something I'll hopefully do by the start of next
year," she revealed.
"I've had offers to go to the US already but I turned them down because of the U-17 World Cup; that's just too massive at the moment. I really wouldn't miss it for the world."