Suspension thrusts White upfront for Ferns
Teenage Football Ferns striker Rosie White is hoping to draw confidence from her goal-scoring record as she starts the biggest football game of her life at the London Olympics.
The 19-year-old is almost certain to lead the Ferns' line against Cameroon in Coventry tomorrow morning (6.45am Wednesday, NZ Time) with Hannah Wilkinson suspended after two cautions.
It's a simple equation for the Ferns. If the Olympic champion United States team beats North Korea at Newcastle and the Ferns conquer Cameroon, New Zealand will advance to the quarterfinals despite two 1-0 pool play defeats to Great Britain and Brazil.
The Ferns will know the Newcastle result before kickoff. If they make the cut they are likely to play the United States in Newcastle on Saturday (NZ Time).
It sounds like a pressure cooker situation but White is taking it in her stride and will take a remarkable record into the match.
In 2008, when White was still 15, she became the first female footballer in history to score hat-tricks at two Fifa world championships, the under-17s and under-20s, in the same year.
No-one has managed the feat since.
The Ferns have yet to hit the back of the net at the Olympics and White, a natural goal scorer, could be the player to break the drought against Cameroon, who have shipped eight goals, including five against Brazil.
White, who now plays college football in Los Angeles with the UCLA Bruins, said her scoring pedigree "gives me a bit of confidence, but when you step up into full international football it's definitely different.
"If I get the chance, I'll just go out there and give it everything I can and hopefully that might include scoring.''
White made her senior World Cup debut last year in Germany, making one appearance as a substitute before starting the final game.
She now wants to make the most of any opportunity at the Olympics. "It's a huge game, we have to win, so it's going to be full on.
"There will definitely be pressure to score.''
White said she is a different style striker to Wilkinson. "She's got such a physical presence on the fild, she's really athletic and she's good at getting in behind defences.
White prefers the ball at her feet and is adept at turning past opponents to create shooting space.
Experienced midfielder Amber Hearn said Wilkinson was "gutted'' at missing the Cameroon match but the team had faith in her replacement.
Hearn, the only New Zealander to score at a World Cup finals and an Olympic game, said the formula is pretty simple.
"We have to win... and we need goals pretty much.''
She said the Ferns played South Africa at the Cyprus Cup and had a chance to assess the Afircan style. She expected Cameroon to be very similar.
"They are a physical side and very fit, but so are we. We can match that now.''
Hearn, who plays professionally in Germany, said the Ferns knew they "should have got something out of'' the Great Britain and Brazil matches but they had now closed the gap on top-10 teams.
"We've come such a long way over the last four months and having everyone [now playing] overseas. It makes a huge difference when you're training every day.''
The Ferns' defence, led by captain Rebecca Smith and centreback partner Abby Erceg with attacking fullbacks Ria Percival and Ali Riley on the flanks, has been difficult to break down with the opposition restricted to two goals.
Great Britain scored from a freekick, which was bent around the defensive wall, and Brazil profited from a goalkeeping error by Jenny Bindon.
So the defence is doing its job. Now the onus is on the strikeforce to deliver. Much of that responsibility will depend on White, Hearn and Sarah Gregorius.
Ferns coach Tony Readings could be looking at his midfield mixwith Annalie Longo and Betsy Hassett vying with Hayley Moorwood and Kirsty Yallop for starting places.
- Fairfax Media