Coach claims Ferns could be football force
Same plea, different day.
Two days after Oly-Whites captain Ryan Nelsen pleaded for more matches in the wake of their men's Olympic football campaign, Football Ferns coach Tony Readings has insisted the national women's team could be a real force with more matches and more funding.
Not that he's complaining with the level of support they received from High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) during the past four years - he's thankful for it - but he believes with more resources the current crop of players could go from quarterfinalists in London 2012 to serious medal contenders in Rio 2016.
There's no doubt this Ferns team have been better prepared than those before them, with more money having been thrown at them by HPSNZ. New Zealand Football received just shy of $500,000 in 2012 alone, most of which went toward the Ferns' buildup.
It allowed them a solid preparation, with a steady diet of games in the past two months, but they pale in comparison to teams such as world No 1 the US, who sent the 23rd-ranked Kiwis packing with a 2-0 quarterfinal win at St James' Park in Newcastle yesterday.
“HPSNZ have invested in our programme because the team has shown promise,” Readings said.
“I think this tournament can be largely down to them, but we still don't play anywhere near the amount of games the top teams do. I know there are geographical challenges but ... We've shown this team is improving, I'm hoping we've shown them we are worth investing in, that we've rewarded them for their faith in us, and that we can get a little bit more investment from people back home to get us more games. When you're out there in these big games against players who have played more than 200 games, it's hard.”
It's also hard to get too excited about their Olympics. The quarterfinals were the minimum target in the 12-team competition and they achieved that - for the first time at a Fifa competition - so they get a pass mark.
But we already knew they had made giant strides and would be competitive in London; what they needed was a big scalp. It didn't come. They lost 1-0 to Britain and Brazil, 2-0 to the US, and won 3-1 against Cameroon, a team they were expected to beat, though they were competitive in each match.
“We've got to be happy with what we've achieved here,” Readings said. “We've shown consistently throughout the tournament that we can compete with these big teams now.
“We had two narrow losses against GB and Brazil and we beat Cameroon and were very competitive for portions of [yesterday's] game. But on our day we can beat them, and we wanted to win the gold medal.”
The bulk of the starting team have been around for several years but they're still young in age, so should be around in 2016, with the probable exception of goalkeeper Jenny Bindon, who is 40 next year. Otherwise, captain Rebecca Smith would be by some way the oldest in Rio, at 35.
Smith was again a rock at the back while fellow defenders Ali Riley, Ria Percival and Abby Erceg were among the Ferns' best. But Readings' big job will be developing players who can regularly create and score goals against top-10 teams.
Sunday Star Times