Soccer: Experienced Ferns side to tackle Olympics

By Michael Brown

The New Zealand women's football side have the honour of opening the upcoming Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.
The New Zealand women's football side have the honour of opening the upcoming Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.

The New Zealand women's football side have the honour of opening the upcoming Olympic Games but, with a combined tally of 862 caps in the squad, they are unlikely to be too overawed.

The Football Ferns take on hosts Great Britain in Cardiff two days before the opening ceremony to mark the start of the Games. They will go into that match with the most experienced New Zealand squad named for a major tournament and it includes 10 players with 50 caps or more to their credit as well as 11 players who went to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It will be captained by Rebecca Smith, who plays for VfL Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga, and she is one of nine fulltime professionals in the 18-strong squad announced today.

"We've been investing in a core group of players since 2006 and now we're much closer to the sort of experience that you need to do well at a pinnacle event,'' New Zealand coach Tony Readings said.

"In terms of age, most players are yet to reach their peak but London could be the event when we really start to cash in on all that investment in international experience.''
Readings has said their target is to win gold - "people might laugh at that but we would rather aim for that and not achieve it,'' he said - but they have a decent chance of at least progressing out of their group.

Along with Great Britain, the Football Ferns will also take on Brazil and Cameroon and the top two sides from each group in the 12-team tournament as well as the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarter-finals.

One win is a minimum requirement and the final pool match against Cameroon on August 1 (NZT) looms as the best chance.

New Zealand have been in good form of late. They recently beat China in two games - the first time the Ferns had ever beaten the former super power of women's football - and Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to Australia snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak.

Readings has made good progress with the side after taking over from John Herdman last year and has put more of an accent on trying to win games rather than being difficult to beat.

"We aren't used to playing the short game but now we are actually playing football,'' striker Amber Hearn said. "That's the big difference [with Tony]. He's allowed us to do what we want. He hasn't given us a structured game plan. It's play, enjoy it and we are.''

The majority of the Olympic squad went to last year's Women's World Cup but former New Zealand women's cricket international Rebecca Rolls, who claims the second goalkeeper spot, and 19-year-old former Australian age-group representative Rebekah Stott have earned selection.

Striker Rosie White, the other teenager in the squad, has also fought her way back from a stress fracture to make the cut and is one of eight squad members aged 24 or under.

New Zealand will play Canada (July 15) and Colombia (July 18) in Switzerland en route to London before opening their Olympic campaign against Great Britain on July 26 (NZT).

New Zealand women's football Olympic squad: Goalkeepers: Jenny Bindon (Hibiscus Coast), Rebecca Rolls (Fencibles United); Defenders: Ria Percival (USV Jena, GER), Anna Green (Lokomotive Leipzig, GER), Abby Erceg (Fencibles United), Rebecca Smith (c _ VfL Wolfsburg, GER), Ali Riley (Malmo, SWE), Kristy Hill (Eastern Suburbs), Rebekah Stott (Melbourne Victory, AUS); Midfielders: Katie Hoyle (Bad Neuenahr, GER), Hayley Moorwood (Chelsea, ENG), Kirsty Yallop (Vittsjo, SWE), Betsy Hassett (UC Berkeley, USA), Annalie Longo (Three Kings United); Forwards: Amber Hearn (USV Jena, GER), Sarah Gregorius (Bad Neuenahr, GER), Rosie White (UCLA, USA), Hannah Wilkinson (Glenfield Rovers).

- APNZ

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