Even before their arrival in Wuhan, New Zealand were being written off by many as the weak link in a group which also contains Brazil, Denmark and hosts China.

In a recent press conference, one journalist had the audacity to ask Kiwi coach John Herdman whether it bothered him that his Group D rivals might view their matches against New Zealand as a way of boosting their goals scored column in the event that goal difference should determine the final standings. Yet the Kiwis - who sailed through the Oceania qualifying tournament, clocking up a plus-20 goal difference and conceding just once in three games - have been in sparkling form since Herdman's appointment as coach in March. Not surprisingly, the Englishman baulked at the reporter's suggestion.

Before taking charge of the New Zealand senior team, Herdman had led the women's U-20 side to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia, earning a creditable 0-0 draw against the eventual bronze medallists, Brazil. As fate would have it, Herdman's opposite number on that day will be calling the shots for Brazil's senior team when the sides meet on Wednesday evening.

Both Herdman and Canarinha coach Jorge Barcellos dipped into their old U-20 squads to bolster the senior ranks for the preliminary campaign. Russia 2006 players Abby Erceg and Ria Percival were imperious in the Kiwi rearguard during qualifying, giving Herdman reason to believe his charges can achieve another positive result against the Brazilians. And when the two teams' managers are reunited on the touchline, no doubt some of the younger players will also be eager to settle some old scores.

While Herdman readily admitted that New Zealand were not the classiest outfit in Group D, he refuted the suggestion that they were in China to make up the numbers. "We have a lot of young players in the team; the one thing about young players is that they don't fear the opposition. We don't necessarily expect to win, but we're certainly going to make life difficult for our opponents." He will hope this means at both ends of the pitch too, given the Kiwis managed to score just one goal in their sole previous appearance at the FIFA Women's World Cup 16 years ago.

Backbone of the team
In terms of the squad's strengths, Herdman may well look to the height of players such as defender Hannah Bromley, the tallest at 178 cm, while 16-year-old midfielder Annalie Longo could also be influential despite being the youngest player in the party. Having represented the FIFA Women's All-Star Team earlier this year, defenders Maia Jackman, Rebecca Smith and striker Wendi Henderson - the sole survivor of New Zealand's China 1991 campaign - are likely to form the backbone of the team. Another player to look out for is the technically gifted Rebecca Smith, who plays for Sunnana SK in Sweden and is one of the few professional players in the squad.

Citing grounds for optimism, Herdman pointed to the attacking flair in his team and was hopeful that a rigorous build-up programme would stand them in good stead. Furthermore, he hoped that the Kiwis' underdog status would work in their favour, enabling the players to relax and play to their full potential. As for the opening game against Brazil, he said: "The first match against Brazil will be really tough because our opponents have outstanding technical ability and stamina. Even so, we'll be going all out for victory. Both teams can win; it's all about who performs on the day." Then, in a moment's frank speaking, he added: "If we get a draw from this match we'll be delighted."