The host nation will again take centre-stage on Thursday as the second round of group matches at Canada 2015 commence but while the home side are taking all the headlines, their opponents New Zealand are intent on playing the role of party poopers. There is an added sub-text too with Canada coached by John Herdman who held the New Zealand national team reins for five years, leading them out at two FIFA Women’s World Cups™.
For Amber Hearn and a host of team-mates – Betsy Hassett and Ria Percival among them – this tournament marks a return to a country where they enjoyed prosperous spells at club level. And a handful of one-time team-mates and club acquaintances are set to be on hand in the Commonwealth Stadium, perhaps adding just slightly to the Kiwi support amid a sea of red. For New Zealand attacking spearhead Hearn, Canada 2015 marks a first return after spending two seasons with Ottawa Fury.
Goal machine Hearn will be one of the players New Zealand will be looking to if they are to dent Canada’s momentum. And Hearn has already proven herself on this stage. Four years ago she crashed home a towering header in the opening minutes of their first group match against eventual champions Japan. It is just one of 45 at international level, comfortably a New Zealand record. The Auckland-born Hearn of part-Maori heritage is also just the fourth Football Fern to pass 100 caps – a feat she achieved in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to the Netherlands.
However, it is fair to Hearn’s focus is not on numbers. “No idea,” is her first response when asked by FIFA.com what year she left Ottawa Fury, nor what is the biggest crowd she has played in front of. “I’m not a statistics person,” she adds with a laugh, and perhaps a dash of understatement. Incredibly, Hearn’s record tally has been achieved despite a four-year sabbatical from the game earlier in her career.
“We always seem to be playing the hosts in every major tournament, but this one will be a little bit extra special. Obviously there is the ex-coach factor. Personally, I think we are a better footballing side . Physically they are demanding but we have to match that. For us too, it is kind of a challenge. Certainly everyone is looking forward to this game, and up for it.”
Searching for breakthrough New Zealand are now ten matches into their Women’s World Cup journey without a win. Hearn though believes they are on the cusp of achieving that all-important breakthrough.“Definitely,” was her emphatic reply when asked if momentum would build with a breakthrough win. “We have played well, and played football. We just need to start taking our chances. That is all we are missing and once we do that we will start winning games.
“One mistake cost us . We picked up the pace in the second half, and we need to continue with what we showed there.”
Despite the impressive resume, Hearn is certainly not one to talk up her own game. That is left to others. "Amber's one of the players that's at the heart and soul of this team both on and off the pitch," New Zealand coach Tony Readings recently said. "On the pitch her goal-scoring record speaks for itself but there's so much she does that people don't give her credit for.”
A match-winning goal against Canada in front of another big Edmonton crowd on Thursday is surely one statistic Hearn would store away in the memory banks.