Making an early exit from a tournament such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ is never in the forefront of a team’s mind. No matter the scenario, whether they are in the group of death or if the general consensus is that they will wilt under pressure from higher ranked sides, any team who makes the trip to a competition has ambitions of at least reaching the knockout stages.
That ever-present ambition to succeed is why the melancholy combination of frustration, disappointment and resentment hanging over New Zealand’s dressing room like a dark cloud after their hard-fought 2-2 draw against China PR – a result which was not enough to prevent the Football Ferns from leaving Canada 2015 in the group stage – was so understandable to see and so hard for the Kiwi players to endure. However, despite the immediate sadness and pain that comes with an early exit, New Zealand managed to keep their heads held high as they exited Winnipeg Stadium after their final Group A match, determined to take something positive out of their experience at the Women’s World Cup.
“Obviously at the moment it is very bittersweet,” Rebekah Stott told FIFA.com. “It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve played every minute of every game and I’ve learned a lot. The whole team has, really.”
Stott, the 21-year old centre-back, scored a brilliantly hit half-volley to fire the Football Ferns into the lead, giving Tony Readings’ side a bright start. The goal, for anyone watching could be forgiven for thinking the strike came from the boot of an experienced forward, jump-started the match and gave the fans in Manitoba plenty to cheer about.
“At the moment it was great; a perfect start to the game,” Stott explained. “It’s extremely disappointing now, of course. I was just happy to score and get the team 1-0 up, which had us on our way to qualifying. Unfortunately it just wasn’t quite enough in the end.”
An eye on the Olympics
If there are any positives to be drawn from the Football Ferns’ outing at Canada 2015, it’s the invaluable experience the team has earned from this tournament, which will undoubtedly help them in their future endeavours. Next summer’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro is, of course, the next big target on the horizon after the Trophy is lifted on 5 July in Vancouver.
The core group of Readings’ team is very young, and that is an advantage he will look to capitalise on in the coming months and years. The average age of New Zealand’s team at Canada 2015 is approximately 24 years and 9 months, with several core players in the squad still under 23-years-old.
“We have learned many things that we’ll take from this tournament and we’ve more than proven we can compete at this level,” Readings said. “We’ll lick our wounds, we’ll reassess and we’ll come back really strong next year for the Olympics.”
Mirroring her coach’s comments, Stott was resolute in her team’s ability to bounce back from the dissatisfaction of an early elimination. “We’re obviously now going to be working towards the Olympics,” she said.
“That’s now our main goal. It’s just so hard to look past the disappointment from today, going out in the group stages. Everyone will probably be together for the Olympics and the next World Cup, though. Only a few players will move on, so we’ll be strong.”