Herdman targets last eight
© Foto-net

Short and sweet maybe, but coach John Herdman believes experience, talent and the buzz of New Zealand's performance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup could take his Junior Ferns into the quarter-finals of the U-20 World Cup in Chile.

Herdman has overlooked an abbreviated preparation to boldly predict his team can go one step further than the U-17 team and not only win a match at the World Cup, but also make the last eight.

The team, which includes nine U-17 players, nine players already capped at senior international level, including six players who went to this year's Olympic Games and seven players from the 2006 U-20 World Cup in Russia, kick off their campaign against group favourites Nigeria on Thursday morning (NZT).

With Kiwi resources having been focused on the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Herdman has had limited time with the squad, and three international matches (a win against Mexico, a draw with Canada and a loss to Chile) is a far cry from the minimum 20 over a two-year period he would deem ideal.

"There are a few negatives there, but the reality is the girls have had some wonderful developing experiences in different environments, so for every negative we've got two or three positives."

"We only had a few days together before our last trip to Chile and got a 3-0 win over Mexico who will also be at the finals, and a draw against the North American champions Canada. I know what this group are capable of with very little preparation, that's why the goal the players have set of a quarter-final, minimum, is realistic

Herdman is aiming for a top-two finish in the group, which also includes Chile and England. This would result in the Junior Ferns becoming the first Kiwi team to reach the quarter-finals.

"We've gone past credibility at senior level, we've gone past credibility at every level now in the women's game," the Englishman said. "It's about more than competitive performances, it's about winning performances."

The U-20s competed well in Russia two years ago, earning a draw with eventual bronze medalists Brazil, but Herdman believes this team is better placed.

"We're more experienced than [in] Russia - physically fitter, technically and tactically better, and more football savvy," he said. Also the under-17 players had brought a "different flavour and buzz" into the squad on the back of their history-making 3-1 win against Colombia in Wellington.

"You've seen that, with the under-17s, they're smart players, and with the likes of [Abby] Erceg, [Ria] Percival, [Katie] Hoyle, we're carrying something like 30 senior international caps, so we've got a solid spine of experience."

However, those players are bracing themselves for a tough time when they kick-off their FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup campaign against Nigeria in Coquimbo. For the nine players fresh from the U-17 tournament in New Zealand, this promises to be a massive step up against the bigger, taller and obviously physically stronger Africans.

"I can't guarantee it will be a pretty game," continued Herdman  Herdman. "They will be fast and strong. It will be a scrappy game at times. Our analysis shows they will press you all over the pitch for 90 minutes and will try to impose themselves down the middle of the park."

New Zealand, drawn in group A, will probably be happy with a point against Nigeria, who are regarded as probably the team to beat in their group.A point would represent a decent start, with matches to follow against hosts Chile and England. A top-two finish would book a quarter-final spot and give the game here a huge boost as the first New Zealand team to progress beyond the group stage They will get no favours from the African champions, although Herdman feels, tactically, the Junior Football Ferns may be better served.

"Every game is winnable, but we are going to have to play our best game," he said. "Nigeria are one of the most experienced teams here. They were knocked out at the quarter-final stages at the last under-20 tournaments - by Germany in a penalty shoot-out, then 2-1 by Brazil. It will be tough."