New Zealand’s progress across all areas of women’s football is undeniable with the Junior Football Ferns very much on track to make an impression during August’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
New Zealand have been taking an integrated and long-term approach to their women’s football structure at the elite level and the dividends are starting to pay off. The senior national team reached the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time with a quarter-final showing at the London 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
That same year the Junior Football Ferns narrowly missed the last eight at the U-20 Women’s World Cup despite sharing the points in an almighty group-stage tussle with classy hosts Japan. Emboldened by the various national team performances during 2012, Aaron McFarland’s charges head to Canada 2014 with a degree of confidence.
Light on maturity, big on experience
After cruising through Oceania qualifying in February, New Zealand stepped up their preparations for Canada 2014 with a recent two-match series in Brazil. The Kiwis returned home having benefitted from the experience, despite suffering narrow 3-1 and 1-0 defeats against the South American powerhouse.
McFarland, a former Auckland City coach who also led the U-20 side with distinction at Japan 2012, will now have the side at his disposal for lengthy periods over the coming two months before they head to Canada. However, on the debit side a third of the touring side that went to Brazil are currently domiciled overseas; five in USA and one in Australia.
By definition the team is youthful, but they lack little for experience. An impressive total of nine players have already been called up for the senior national team, namely captain Katie Bowen, Lily Alfeld, CJ Bott, Megan Lee, Meikayla Moore, Evie Millynn, Holly Patterson, Martine Puketapu and Stephanie Skilton. Meanwhile a further three players - Puketapu, Daisy Cleverley and Isabella Coombes – were key members of the Young Football Ferns side which competed at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica earlier this year.
McFarland believes such know-how will be a valuable asset for his team during the white hot atmosphere of a World Cup. “You’ll see how those players show a maturity on the field where they are able to express themselves fully and be composed under the pressure of an international,” he said.
The pathway flowing into the U-20 team is not restricted to those on the pitch with McFarland serving as assistant coach to senior national team boss Tony Readings, while U-20 assistant coach Jitka Klimkova guided the U-17 side in Costa Rica. Clearly long-term growth and application of a football philosophy are primary concerns.
“One of the main focal points of development for our age group sides is to develop a possession-based game,” McFarland said linking to the methodology adopted by the nation’s other two international teams.
“Each year the individuals coming through the variety of pathways in New Zealand are showing the returns of the increased time invested into their technical development. We have players throughout the squad who are comfortable with the ball and can play with good game intelligence.”
Now the aim is to turn the philosophy into results on the field in Canada where the New Zealanders sit in an intriguing Group D that also includes Paraguay, France and Costa Rica. Aside from the chance to write their own chapter in New Zealand’s fast-growing women’s football narrative, the current crop also have the added incentive of auditioning for a return to Canada for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™.