These are heady times for football in New Zealand, with the senior women following in the footsteps of the men's U-17 and U-20 sides by qualifying for a FIFA World Cup this year.

New Zealand sides have taken full advantage of Australia's move to the Asian Football Confederation in January 2006, with a 100 per cent record in Oceania World Cup qualifying tournaments since Australia's departure.

The U-20 women were the first team to benefit and ironically enough the first team they faced in last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in China was Australia. New Zealand suffered a 3-0 defeat to their neighbours but bounced back well to push Russia close before earning a 0-0 draw with Brazil in their final game.

New Zealand coach John Herdman included nine of 2006 U-20 squad in his senior squad for the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea in April 2007, and players such as Abby Erceg, Ria Percival and Ali Riley repaid the coach's faith in them with some eye-catching performances.

While the average age of the New Zealand squad in Papua New Guinea was 22, the backbone of Herdman's side is provided by a clutch of experienced players including defenders Maia Jackman and Rebecca Smith and 35-year-old striker, Wendi Henderson.
Jackman was selected for the FIFA Women's All Stars team which took on China in an exhibition match before the official draw for the tournament in Wuhan.

Henderson, meanwhile, is only the third New Zealand player to reach a half-century of caps and the sole survivor from the Kiwis' 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup squad, New Zealand's first and only appearance at this level.Rebecca Smith is a Californian-born Kiwi who plays with Sunnana SK in Sweden. The talented central defender, who captained the Duke University women's side in 2003, is one of the only full-time professionals in the New Zealand side.

Qualification
New Zealand booked the last spot at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup by waltzing through the Oceania qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 9-13 April.

Herdman's side thrashed PNG 7-0 in their final game to complete a clean-sweep of the four-team qualifier and book the last of 16 places of September's event.

Runaway winners, New Zealand finished with a plus-20 differential after conceding just one goal in three matches, this despite some extremely difficult conditions that saw Emily McColl collapse from heat stroke during the 8-0 win over the Solomon Islands in their second game of the tournament.

The Kiwis opened the tournament with a 6-1 win over Tonga but two wins by the host side, PNG, meant that New Zealand needed a point from their final game against PNG to confirm their place in China.

Despite missing a number of golden opportunities early on, the result was never in doubt after defender Abby Erceg opened the scoring after 20 minutes. Zoe Thompson, Ria Percival and Kirsty Yallop scored before half-time and second-half goals from Yallop and substitutes Anna Green and Hayley Moorwood wrapped up a 7-0 win and confirmed New Zealand's trip to China.

Coach
John Herdman led the New Zealand Women's U-20 side to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia last year.

New Zealand lost their opening game against Australia 3-0 but they came close to earning a point against the hosts, Russia, before losing 3-2 in injury time. Herdman and his squad finished the tournament on a high, earning a 0-0 draw against the eventual bronze medalists, Brazil.

Next up for Herdman was a trip to China in November with a women's development squad. Despite losing the two game series 4-0 and 3-0, he proved his ability to coach at the highest level and when Allan Jones resigned as the senior women's coach for personal reasons in March this year, he was the automatic choice as successor.

The Englishman started his career as a youth coach with Sunderland Football Club before moving to New Zealand in 2003. Herdman started working with the elite women players in 2003 and he is also Coach Development Manager for New Zealand Football.

FIFA Women's World Cup history

  • It is 16 years since New Zealand played on the world stage at the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 1991 and they will be hoping for an improvement in their results when they return this year.

  • In 1991, they lost all three of their first round games to Denmark (0-3), Norway (0-4) and the hosts China (1-4).

  • The 1991 event was New Zealand's only previous appearance at a FIFA Women's World Cup final.

What they said...
"This is a crucial time for women's football in New Zealand. The women's game is on the cusp of something really special and we are hoping that with some credible performances on the world stage, our senior side can lead the game in New Zealand into a new era," New Zealand coach, John Herdman.