New Zealand travel to next month’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago with a steely determination to sustain the impetus built up in the nation over the last 12 months. The achievements of the All Whites at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has been well documented, while the nation’s only professional club, Wellington Phoenix, also attained unprecedented success playing to record crowds in the ‘land of the long white cloud.’
The ball started rolling nearly a year ago at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, when the Young All Whites won through to the knockout stage. It was the first such achievement by a New Zealand national team at a FIFA tournament but if coach Dave Edmondson’s young charges have their way, it is a feat that will be replicated by the female counterparts in 2010.
The visit to the island nation will represent the first major international tournament for the majority of the squad, as it will do for most participants at Trinidad and Tobago 2010. However, unlike most of the young talent on show across the 16-nation field, many of the New Zealand players have been mixing with older players in senior football for the last year or two.
"It’s the first step on the international stage for the majority of players but a big chunk of the squad have played premier league football in the winter or even National Women’s League, so while they are young there’s a fair bit of experience as well,” said Edmondson. “There’s a nice blend of players. There are some real attacking players, really creative players with great vision and some talented defenders with pace, strength and aggression.”
Chief among the experienced crop is skipper Katie Bowen, a veteran of the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and the only player to have previously played at a FIFA tournament. Conversely at the other end of the scale, two 15 year olds – defender Megan Lee and goalkeeper Lily Alfeld – are in the 21-strong squad, while there is even a 14-year-old in midfielder Hannah Carlson.
Two years after featuring on home soil at the inaugural edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Bowen is looking to lead from the front. “My goals in the World Cup will be to lead the New Zealand team as best as I can,” she said. “I aspire to be the first team into the quarter finals and also I hope to score a goal and play to the best of my ability.”
Also noteworthy is midfielder Jessica Mathews, whose brother Jacob was a member of the Young All Whites who played at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup. It continues somewhat of a tradition for Kiwi siblings, with Chelsey Wood playing for New Zealand last month at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany almost immediately after brother Chris featured for the All Whites at South Africa 2010.
The Young Football Ferns qualified in emphatic fashion, defeating Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga in April to claim Oceania’s berth at Trinidad and Tobago 2010. As always, factors such as distance and travel present New Zealand's national teams with a challenging task in preparing to face the world’s best, but the class of 2010 are reasonably well placed in that regard.
Last month the team travelled across the Tasman Sea to Australia, where they recorded a win and a loss against a strong New South Wales Institute team, before suffering a 4-1 loss at the hands of Australian W-League champions Sydney FC. Late this month the team will conclude preparations with a camp and further internationals against Korea Republic and Republic of Ireland. Then it is on to the Caribbean, where the Young Football Ferns will attempt to maintain the momentum of a football nation that continues to punch above its weight.