Canty footballers vie for Fifa World Cup
Four Canterbury footballers will next month attempt to do what no other women's age group team has done, win through to the knock out stage of a Fifa World Cup.
Lauren Dabner, Laura Merrin, Lily Alfeld and Meikayla Moore have all been selected in the New Zealand side to take part in the third under-17 World Cup, in Azerbaijan.
All four are schoolgirls and all four play for the Coastal Spirit women's premier team and the Mainland Pride women's side.
And all four are fizzing about leaving in two weeks to play in a World Cup.
"It's going to be an awesome experience," said Dabner, 16, an attacking midfielder who is year 12 at Riccarton High.
"It doesn't really feel real yet," said Moore.
Alfeld and Merrin (both 17-year-old year 12s at Lincoln High) and Moore (a 16-year-old year-11 at Avonside Girls') are all more defence minded players and form the nucleus of an impressive defensive line.
Merrin and Moore are fullbacks while Alfeld is a goalkeeper.
A fifth Mainland player, Nelson-based Emily Jensen is also in the side and she plays centre back.
The Christchurch quartet work closely with coach Gareth Turnbull.
Turnbull is the Mainland Pride coach and has worked with the under-17 side in an assistant's role, but won't be travelling to Western Asia for the World Cup because of funding restrictions.
Tim Bush has also done a power of work with some of the girls.
Their aims for the World Cup are to have fun and to make the knockout stage - a feat never accomplished by an underage women's team at a World Cup.
"We know how big a challenge that's going to be," Alfeld said.
A win against Mexico in their opening match will be a must. Rankings at under-17 level are unofficial and unreliable, but the New Zealand women's senior side are ranked 21st in the world.
The Mexican senior women's side are 24th, but New Zealand's next two games are against women's footballing powerhouses.
The Baby Football Ferns have drawn Japan and Brazil in the next games.
Their senior sides are ranked three and four respectively and both are class acts at this level.
"But we're happy being underdogs," Merrin said confidently.
"In our heads, if we believe we can do it then we can do it."
All four expect the Brazilians to be especially skilful.
But their plan to deal with some of the top young players in the world was simple. Just forget who their opponents are and remember they've got their own job to do - and they're representing New Zealand.
They all put hours into their games and know this tournament isn't just a chance to wear a silver fern, but is also an opportunity to advertise their individual skills.
The Fifa under-17 tournaments are littered with scouts looking for the next best thing in women's football and they don't care if a player is from Azerbaijan, Brazil or New Zealand.
The medium-term goal for Dabner, Merrin, Alfeld and Moore is to pick up a scholarship in the United States, following in the footsteps of, among others, current under-20 skipper Rosie White, who rose to prominence playing at the first women's under-17 World Cup, in New Zealand in 2008.
Players like White blazed a path for the current crop, who would happily follow that track further into the knock-out stages.
NZ v Mexico, September 23, 10pm.
NZ v Japan, September 27, 3am.
NZ v Brazil, September 30, 11pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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