Young Ferns to find going tough in Azerbaijan
New Zealand's run of results at recent football World Cups can be traced back to Wellington 2008, when on a miserable weeknight Paul Temple's under-17 girls lit up Westpac Stadium and beat Colombia 3-1, courtesy of a Rosie White hat-trick.
It was a breakthrough win for a Kiwi women's team at a Fifa tournament and triggered a run of several good results - albeit many of those have been draws - from under-17 level through to the All Whites and Football Ferns.
But chances of a repeat four years later, in Azerbaijan this week, are slimmer. That's no criticism of the squad Temple has assembled, which he rates as technically far more gifted than four years ago, but a reflection of the opposition in the 16-team tournament.
The Young Ferns meet Mexico in their opener at Baku tomorrow (10pm NZ time) before facing Japan on Thursday and Brazil next Sunday. A top-two finish in group C puts a team in the quarterfinals.
It's a tough group by anyone's standards, with Japan and Brazil at the forefront of women's football and Mexico always a team to be wary of, at any level.
Temple is keeping expectations results-wise down but, with his squad having spent the past 21 months preparing for this tournament, he is confident of good performances.
Wellington's Waterside Karori supply four players - Briar Palmer, Emma Rolston, Megan Robertson and Ronisa Lipi - as does Christchurch's Coastal Spirit club, with Lily Alfeld, Meikayla Moore, Laura Merrin and Lauren Dabner.
But the one to watch could well be the only overseas-based player, talented midfielder Emma Fletcher, who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
As always, there will be scouts aplenty, particularly from US colleges where so many New Zealanders are these days picking up scholarships.
- © Fairfax NZ News