New Zealand go into Germany 2011 with two previous experiences of the FIFA Women's World Cup. Their first in 1991 saw them fall at the group stage after defeats to Denmark, Norway and hosts China PR, and it was a similar story in 2007, when they lost to Brazil and again to Denmark and China PR. This year, the Football Ferns are aiming to make it third time lucky.
Since talking over as head coach in 2007, John Herdman has strived to bring a greater level of consistency to the national team. "Before I came on board, there were five coaches in five years," he told FIFA.com. "I've been in charge for a number of years now and this means that I can bring a certain structure to the team and have a vision and a longer-term strategy."
Making a real difference
"A lot has been happening in New Zealand over the past five or six years, and by that I mean improvements in quality and infrastructure as opposed to the way we play. We now have someone responsible for the development of women's football, and having an individual fully focussed on that makes a real difference," added Herdman, who is counting the days to the forthcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.
"We wanted to avoid Germany at all costs at the group stage," the Englishman said of the upcoming tournament. "They're the favourites for the title if you ask me. They're playing on home soil and they'll take a lot of stopping. Anyone hoping to beat Germany will have to be on absolutely top form." Not that the hosts will be the only team to keep an eye on according to Herdman. "I think England might well be the surprise package. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds on the international stage in the past four years. Australia will be tough as well – what they’ve achieved in Asia is hardly believable. Those two teams are the big unknown quantities of this World Cup as far as I'm concerned.
A sizeable number of the New Zealand players are no strangers to Germany, having appeared there last year at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. "We have a very young team with ten players under the age of 20," Herdman explained, "but that can’t be an excuse. They must rise to the challenges ahead of them."
One of the linchpins of the side is Rebecca Smith, a player the coach feels will be integral to his side’s chances. "Becks plays in Germany for VfL Wolfsburg. She's a central defender and is one of the players we're counting on. She makes a real contribution whenever she plays." There will also be plenty of younger players to keep an eye on. "You've got Betsy Hassett and Hannah Wall, who are both U-20s, while Rosie White will just be 18 at the World Cup. She's probably one for the future, for the 2015 World Cup. And while she will play at this tournament, she's still learning how to get past top defenders at this level."
Committed, passionate and aggressive
When asked to describe his team, three words sprang to mind immediately for Herdman. "Committed, passionate and aggressive. We have a very small population and limited finances, but we make up for this with excellent team spirit. I know talk of camaraderie is a cliché but it's what's enabled this team to come so far in a very short space of time."
If his charges can display those attributes at Germany 2011, the Football Ferns could well create a stir. Group opponents England, Mexico and Japan have been warned...