A new New Zealand
© Foto-net

The people of China hope that these Olympic Games will help to change people's perceptions of their country. Similarly, the Football Ferns of New Zealand hope that this tournament will herald a new dawn for their national team.

In previous FIFA tournaments, such as the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Russia 2006 and the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, the Kiwis won plaudits for their pride and passion, but not enough matches to satisfy coach John Herdman.

The 33-year-old Englishman, who led the side through those two tournaments, has guided the team through 12 months of intensive preparations for the Olympics, which he believes will bear fruit in the coming Group G matches against Japan (Wednesday), Norway (Saturday) and USA (Tuesday).

A real feeling
"There is a genuine belief now, it's not this ‘plastic' belief that was there before," he told FIFA.com. "You talk about winning, because that's what you've got to do, but you don't really feel it. But the players believe now.

"That's what's changed: it's their psychology, their belief. They've also improved physically and tactically and they've got the experience. Some of these girls have been to two FIFA events in two years - and that counts for a lot."

Herdman points to the recent 1-1 draw with Canada in Singapore as evidence of his side's development since their last major tournament in the Far East.

"We're a lot more confident than we were going into the 2007 World Cup," he continued. "That was about credibility, but this time it's about results and performance. This is a new era and we have a new, winning mentality."

Erceg echoes her coach
One player who has been there every step of the way with Herdman is central defender Abby Erceg, who harbours hopes of playing professionally in Europe. The 18-year-old, who won a FIFA Player of the Match Award at Russia 2006, is confident that the Kiwis will turn heads during their time in China.

"Back in 2006, being a centre back in a New Zealand team, you knew your work was cut out for you," she smiled. "You knew that you'd be defending for the whole 90 minutes. You wouldn't get out of your half. I'm not going to lie, it was scary.

"No-one had been to a major tournament before, we were there just to participate - and it was surprising when we got a draw. Now, it's different. We're in the attacking third a lot more and we're going to win a game here. It's not mere talk. This is a new New Zealand."