When New Zealand captain Rosie White netted her side’s second goal against Japan during Wednesday’s Group A game, little did she know that the game-saving strike represented an important scoring milestone.
The goal took her overall tally at FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups to six, a total that places her among the competition’s top ten all-time goalscorers. White’s goal in the opener against Switzerland saw the Auckland-native join Mexico’s Charlyn Corral in scoring at three FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, although Nigeria's Ebere Orji could also join that exclusive club during Japan 2012.
This is White's third appearance at the tournament, having previously featured in the 2008 and 2010 editions, and in the process, becoming the only player in the history of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup to feature in six FIFA tournaments while still at this level.
The former OFC Player of the Year has also appeared at senior level in the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and, most recently, the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. It is indeed a remarkable CV for a player that has only just celebrated her 19th birthday.
FIFA.com caught up with the in-form striker as she recovered from her side’s 2-2 draw against the hosts, a result that brings New Zealand ever closer to their first-ever quarter-final appearance at a FIFA women's youth tournament. “We’ll do all we can to get there,” a determined White promised, “and if we manage that then we’ll be going for the title.”
She was justifiably pleased with her side’s performance against the Japanese, saying: “We played a fantastic game and soaked up a lot of pressure. The draw is a massive result and now we have a real idea of what we can do. We have to be wary of a few team like the US and Germany but, even though it’s a big challenge, we’re ready for it.”
The Kiwis’ final group game against Mexico will determine which of the two hopefuls go through to the knockout stage. New Zealand coach Aaron McFarland believes that experience, something which the Junior Football Ferns possess in spades, will be a big factor.
We’ve got the knack of playing big games and knowing how to win.
"When I started out I learned a lot from my team-mates," says White, before concurring with her coaches view that the current crop has the requisite experience to succeed. "Now, I know a lot more about tournaments, and me and the girls are used to the atmosphere. We’ve got the knack of playing big games and knowing how to win.”
“I’m the captain and it’s a strange feeling. But at the same time it’s an honour and a big responsibility.
“The Mexico match will be decisive,” she went on. “My role is to pass on what I’ve learned to the less-experienced players, because we need to believe in ourselves if we’re to come through this tough group.”
For all her talent, this rising star is surprisingly modest when confronted with her impressive achievements.
“Are those really my stats?” White asks in disbelief when presented with her list of achievements. “Great! That’s excellent! The truth is, though, that I’m not that bothered with those things. I care more about playing the game and helping my country win. Listening to the national anthem before the game I feel immensely proud. Personal achievements are all very well but getting titles for New Zealand comes first.”
White, who confesses to be a huge fan of Lionel Messi, also revealed how she first became a footballer.
“I started playing when I was five and I was better than the boys,” she recalled with a grin. “It was only when I was 12 that I began to take it seriously, and I loved it. I knew I‘d and found my calling in life. My two brothers and my father gave me a lot of support too. They’re here in Japan at the moment, going to all the games and singing in the stands from start to finish.”
Japan 2012 also represents a watershed moment in White’s career. This will be her last U-20 tournament, after which she will focus her attention on the senior national team.
When talking about her future, it becomes clear just how much White would like to achieve: “I’ve got big ambitions – there’s no limit to what I want, but my greatest dream is for New Zealand to win Olympic gold.”
“On a personal level, I’d like to develop as a player and sign for a major club,” she continued. “Maybe in Germany or Sweden, where they have professional women’s leagues. It would also be amazing to win the Ballon d’Or. I’ve still got time!”
But it is not only football that interests White, who is currently finishing up a degree in psychology: “When my career is over, I’d like to start a family and teach my kids the game as well.”
Despite her many achievements, the self-effacing forward remains largely unknown to football fans, a situation that seems to suit her down to the ground.
“I would like my life to remain calm,” she insists. “I prefer being a normal person who happens to love football, rather than some famous personality always pursued by the media. I love going to the seaside to surf and hanging out with my friends so I’ll do everything I can to keep my life like it is.”