Footballers often profess to be unconcerned by history and unaffected by statistics. As such, it would hardly have been unexpected if Katie Bowen and Steph Skilton had brushed off questions about New Zealand never having made it past this tournament's group phase. Such a record could, after all, be written off as the burden of previous U-20 generations and irrelevant to this current crop of Junior Ferns.

But as soon as it was mentioned, the pair responded emphatically and in unison. "We're definitely aware of that - very aware of it," said Skilton. "I think that's the big difference this year: we're going out there to play with a real purpose. It's not just about enjoying the experience and playing not to lose. We're playing to win, and playing to qualify."

As Skilton spoke, Bowen nodded earnestly in agreement, with the Kiwi captain equally keen on making history - and proving a point in the process. "We're not the New Zealand we once were," she insisted. "We've always known that people would see our name in the draw and think, 'Oh, that will be an easy one'. Then at the tournaments we'd be losing five or six-nil, and if we got a draw it would be like, 'Hallelujah!'

"We want to show people that we aren't that team anymore; that other nations should see us and feel threatened. And I think they should. We have pace, we have experience and the women's game in our country is getting stronger every single year."

We're not the New Zealand we once were. We want other nations to see us and feel threatened.

Katie Bowen, New Zealand captain

The attributes stressed by Bowen were certainly evident in Wednesday's impressive 2-0 win over Paraguay. Traditional Kiwi hallmarks like strength and tireless running were still present, but there was also a maturity and self-assurance that bodes well for the team's future in this tournament and beyond. No two players better represented the new-look New Zealand than Bowen and Skilton, and both were full of praise for the other's contribution.

"Katie brings so much to the team on and off the park," Skilton said as her friend blushed. "We couldn't ask for a better captain and the girls really look up to her. She definitely has a voice that's heard by everyone in the team, that's for sure! Plus, my goal against Paraguay was all down to her. It was on a platter for me - I couldn't miss."

"But even when I got that cross in," countered Bowen, "other players might have given it up, thinking the ball was running out. As soon as I got my foot to it, though, I just knew Steph would be there. As a midfielder, you can't ask for anything more than having a workhorse striker like her."

Having played together at club level and in two previous global finals - one at U-17 level, one at U-20 - it is hardly a surprise to find such on-field intuition between these close friends. With eight World Cups combined, the duo's experience also belies their tender years. Bowen accounts for five of those, having appeared at the U-17 event at the age of just 14 and starred at the senior finals three years later. Such knowhow, she believes, gave her team a massive advantage over the Paraguayan debutants.

"They were experiencing it all for the first time," she explained, "whereas we have a number of players who've played in a few World Cups. We'd hoped beforehand that might be a factor and, when you look at the game, I think it definitely was."

There will, of course, be no such advantage in New Zealand's next match, which pits them against an accomplished and impressive French side. The European champions reaffirmed their status as Group D favourites with a thumping 5-1 win over Costa Rica in their opening match, and Bowen is under no illusions about the challenge they pose.

"We've always looked on France as our hardest match and there's no doubt they are a fantastic team," she said. "The goal [Claire] Lavogez scored in their last game was absolutely world-class and showed what they're capable of. But you never know what can happen in this game. We played Japan at the last U-20s, everyone expected us to get hammered, and we got a draw.

"That," she concluded, "is the kind of thing we want to make a habit of."