Sermanni: New Zealand’s spirit means we can beat anyone on our day

  • hears from experienced New Zealand coach Tom Sermanni ahead of Tokyo 2020

  • Football Ferns scheduled to meet Australia, USA and Sweden

  • 2023 Women’s World Cup co-hosts faced challenging preparation for WOFT

Few are more experienced in international women’s football than Tom Sermanni. The Scottish-born New Zealand coach has coached at four FIFA Women’s World Cups™, as well as holding an assistant's role with host nation Canada in 2015, and yet remarkably this is his first Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Formerly head coach of Australia and USA, Sermanni faces a major challenge at Tokyo 2020. Drawn against USA, Sweden and Australia, the Football Ferns have been unable to play a single international match since early 2020. A week out from his side's opener against 2023 FIFA Women’s World co-hosts Australia, Sermanni tells about the challenges preparing for Tokyo 2020, the strengths of the Football Ferns and the unique experience that is the Olympic Games. How is the team looking now that you are in Japan and ready for your first international in a long time? Tom Sermanni: One of the main values of this team is that we have had a group of players that have been together for a long time and actually genuinely enjoy getting together. We also have a group of young players that are coming through now and are really creating a positive mix within the squad, so in that sense it makes the football transition a lot easier because of the connection between the players. How much of a hindrance to your preparation is not playing for so long? Obviously preparation is key ahead of a major tournament and that has been pretty challenging for us. But it is what it is, and this is perhaps where the advantage of old age comes in because I come from a background where we just did what we had to do regardless of the circumstances, so I don’t get particularly caught up in those aspects and it is just a matter of utilising the time we have the best we can. It is as simple as that.

You have a tough group, arguably the toughest of the three... Well, here is the thing, every team in the top 20 of the world makes for a tough, tight and challenging game and we are used to that. The thing about New Zealand is that because of the spirit within the team, and attitude that comes out of New Zealand – as it does in Australia – it doesn’t matter who you come up against, you always know that players are going to give it a go and that you are going to have a chance to win. New Zealand have come out and produced results over the years against some very, very good teams, so I don’t think it matters too much if we are facing number six in the world or number 16 - it is still going to be a difficult game. If everyone does their job - coaches and players - we can always get a result against any opponent. With an eye on 2023, how are the younger players shaping up? That has been a bigger challenge because we have had a program that has been redundant for 16 months and, prior to me coming on board in 2018, the program was basically dormant for around nine months. So for a significant period over the past three years we just haven’t been able to expand the program or give young players opportunities that we would have been able to do under normal circumstances. In a normal scenario where the Olympics went ahead on 2020, that period of around 18 months from 2020 until the end of this year would have been a critical period to look at and blood young players. That would strengthen the squad and would give experience to players where you are not preparing for a major tournament so that is a critical preparation that has unfortunately been lost. So the task ahead is a major challenge. Is there a different feel being at the Olympics compared to say a World Cup? Probably not at this stage because, due to Covid, everyone is in isolation preparing for a tournament remotely and we have no opportunity to be out in the community and all those other little things that make a tournament quite special. It is hard to compare this Olympics to others just yet but once we get into the Olympic Village it will no doubt feel very different. That energy of being around athletes from other sports and being around an event will no doubt be a real positive. After all these years this will be your first Olympics, how does that feel? It has been a while coming but I’m very much looking forward to getting into the Village and experiencing that unique environment. What are some of your special Olympic memories? I was the Technical Operations manager in the [2000] Sydney Olympics and in charge of field of play and various other technical matters, so that first got me involved in the Olympic environment. In football terms, I was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and well remember the women’s final between China and the US, and the men’s semi-final where Nigeria came back against Brazil and won 4-3 and [Nwankwo] Kanu basically ran the show. I have very fond memories of those two matches.