Riley: Kiwis' chance to shine

Key New Zealand defender Ali Riley knows the route to success at the highest level having helped a star-studded FC Gold Pride claim last year’s WPS title in the USA. Despite playing alongside the likes of Brazilian superstar Marta, and competing in a competition that has attracted some of the best players in the world, Riley impressed enough to collect the league’s best new player award. The 23-year-old will again link with Marta at new club Western New York Flash for the upcoming season, but come June the Los Angeles-born Riley is hoping that she can help New Zealand enjoy a breakthrough showing at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™.

The Football Ferns have yet to taste victory on the world’s biggest stage but recent results, combined with an increasing number of squad personnel playing club football overseas, has Riley quietly confident the team can enjoy new-found success at Germany 2011. The reigning OFC Player of the Year tells that not only will the New Zealanders relish the opportunity to make a splash in front of a global audience, but they are quietly confident of doing so. What do you think of New Zealand’s group which features Japan, Mexico and England? Ali Riley: I’m really excited because I think it there is a good opportunity for us to get out of the group. It is a very competitive section but we have played England and Japan before and have some good history. I’m also really excited because I know a number of players in the England and Mexico teams really well so that will make it extra special.

Is there a feeling within the New Zealand squad that this can be a breakthrough tournament? With every tournament we have been improving and getting good results, but this is our chance to do so in front of a world audience. I hope we can perform to the best of our potential because this is a great opportunity to show how talented we are.

Will the team take inspiration from the success of other New Zealand national teams of recent years? Any New Zealand performance is inspiring because there is such a strong sense of pride and honour to play for the country. It is good to be the underdogs and have the chance to upset others teams and exceed the expectations of many.

This is going to be a highlight of my playing career.

With a couple of exceptions it’s a fairly young team, does that mean anything in a positive or negative way? So many of us came from the U-20s (of 2006 and 2008) and having played internationally for so many years we don’t feel like a young team anymore. Certainly, in terms of experience we are not a young team and I think that is what matters most. Everyone is fit and strong and eager to prove ourselves.

How prepared will the New Zealand team be? We have a core of players playing in different leagues across the world. The players in New Zealand are training and playing together so in that perspective there is an advantage to staying at home. So there will be an interesting dynamic and I think it can work in our favour.

How special will it be this June in Germany? This is going to be a highlight of my playing career. The tournament will be an incredibly exciting time for women’s soccer, and the chance to show how much the game has developed. The tournament will be interesting with so many teams doing well and having really improved during the last four years.

How far has New Zealand developed in the four years since the last World Cup in China in 2007? We were really disappointed last time but now we are so much more experienced. We all love playing and are passionate for the game. It will also be a chance for players to gain exposure and be seen internationally.

Given your success in the US, you are now a senior player in the national team at a relatively young age. Is that something you enjoy? I love being a part of the team. I miss being away from it having been together with the players on and off for about five or six years now. It is definitely very enjoyable and it is the best experience of my life. Nothing compares to playing for your country and playing in the World Cup and Olympic Games is unparalleled.

From your experiences do you have any thoughts about the USA’s chances? I think the USA will do great as usual and I know they are training so hard, even though in qualifying they had a loss and everyone is doubting them. They have so much talent in the squad and I’m excited to see them play.