New Zealand’s women can look back on their qualifying campaign for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ with justifiable pride. Not only did they win the OFC Women’s Nations Cup without losing a single game or conceding a goal, they managed to net a staggering 50 strikes in just five matches. Twelve of these came from the boot of 26-year-old goal-machine Amber Hearn, who spoke to *FIFA.com *about her hopes for Germany 2011 and her side’s opening game against Japan.
FIFA.com: You topped the scorers’ list at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup with 12 goals in five appearances. How do you rate your team’s performance in that competition?
*Amber Hearn: *I think it was to be expected. I’m not talking about my achievement or the 50 goals we got. What I mean is that we’re the best side in the region and so we should be winning the title.
*How did it affect you when Australia left Oceania and joined the Asian Football Confederation?
*To be honest it opened a lot of doors for us. We wouldn’t be where we are now if they hadn’t made the move.
*You scored against Japan during that 2-2 draw at the 2008 Olympics. How do you see New Zealand performing against them in the group opener?
*The last time we played them was in 2009, when we lost 2-1. The squad was carrying a lot of injuries and our team was young and experienced, so the score line wasn’t too bad. This time we’re well prepared, though. Of course your first match in a tournament is always tricky but personally speaking, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of teams.
*Are there any Japanese players you’re looking forward to facing?
*All of them! They’re all very talented and look to keep the ball. If I had to choose I’d say their captain, Homare Sawa. We started playing international football at about the same time. I reckon she’s the key player for Japan and we’ll need to keep a careful eye on her is we want to win.
*Do you expect New Zealand to perform better than they did at the last edition in 2007?
*Of course! The standard of women’s football in New Zealand has come on leaps and bounds since then. Our team has an average age of 20, so we’re a young side. We’ve trained hard for this and played a lot of games so we’re definitely going to go further than the last World Cup.
*Which teams in your group give you sleepless nights?
*I don’t think any of them do. We’ve played Mexico, Japan and England before. It’s true that we were beaten 5-0 in our recent game against Mexico, but it helped us understand where we were going wrong and identify our weaknesses, so we’ve had the opportunity to put them right.
Of course your first match in a tournament is always tricky but personally speaking, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of teams.
*What’s your target for this tournament?
*Speaking for myself, I want to get to the final, but as a team our first target is to make it to the Round of 16. * *
*So who do think will qualify from your group?
*We will of course! And Japan, I should say. I don’t think the England team has what it takes to keep up with the Asian sides.
*Finally, what are your impressions of the atmosphere and organisation of this FIFA World Cup?
*I couldn’t wish for more. It’s all great. The organisation is out of this world, and our training pitches are beautiful.