It was a night none of those involved will ever forget. For the first time ever, a New Zealand women’s national side made it past the group stage at a FIFA tournament. A 3-1 victory over Cameroon in Coventry on Tuesday evening was enough to hand Tony Readings’ charges a place in the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-place finishers at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
“I’m relieved, happy and proud. A little bit of everything,” a visibly moved Rosie White told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview after the match. “We knew we needed to win today. It was the only thing we were thinking about. At the end it was a historic moment for us.”
The 19-year-old striker more than played her part in the victory, supplying two assists to help New Zealand to race into a 3-0 lead by the 62nd-minute mark. Now the 30-time senior international is hoping her side will continue to improve as the tournament enters the knockout phase.
And having represented her country throughout her teenage years, White is convinced of the quality of women’s football in her homeland. “The fact that we’ve made it past the group stage for the first time ever shows how much we’ve progressed," said White.
"We’ve grown enormously in the last four or five years, but even more so in the last couple of months," she continued. "We’ve shown that we can compete on the international stage. It’s a great feeling. I think the main improvement has been that we can now vary our game a lot more. We can play a short passing style or we can go long. We’ve always been physically strong. Now we’ve brought everything together.”
Alongside fellow forward Annalie Longo, two years her senior, White is the only player to have been on the pitch for all three of New Zealand's victories at FIFA women's tournaments. The duo were involved in the 3-1 win over Colombia at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2008 in their homeland, as well as the 4-3 triumph over hosts Chile at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup later the same year.
“Wow, that’s a pretty cool statistic, I didn’t know that,” continued White, after the success against Cameroon which completed the treble. “But it’s unique and makes me all the prouder.”
Coach Readings, meanwhile, is well aware of the quality of the strike pairing he has at his disposal. “Both players are peerless in New Zealand football," the coach told FIFA.com. "Longo is both physically and technically exceptional, even for international level. She’s got better every year."
"And White is showing time and again that she can score goals," he added. "She’s only just starting to realise her potential in world football. Both of them are absolute poster girls for our talent development. They both played their part in getting us here, to celebrate the most historic day in the history of New Zealand football.”
Now the Kiwis' thoughts must turn to preparations for their quarter-final tie against defending champions USA in Newcastle on Friday. “I know some of their players who played at my university. It’s a nice rivalry,” said White, who plays college-level football in California for the renowned educational establishment UCLA. “On a good day I believe we’re capable of achieving something special. We’ve made it this far and I don’t think it’ll be easy to stop us.”