Football: Riley eyes 100th cap

Ali Riley in action against South Korea in 2010. Photo / Getty Images
Ali Riley in action against South Korea in 2010. Photo / Getty Images

Ali Riley will make history tomorrow when the New Zealand women's football side play Australia in the first of two international friendlies to prepare for the Rio Olympics.

The 28-year-old American-born Kiwi will become only the fifth New Zealander to play 100 games or more for her country after Abby Erceg (124), Katie Duncan (nee Hoyle) (113), Amber Hearn (110) and Ria Percival (114).

Riley, who plays her football for FC Rosengard in Sweden, doesn't expect she will get too emotional when the teams line up for the anthems tomorrow afternoon at Morshead Park in Ballarat.

"It is just another game," she said. "Every game is a privilege and an honour for me. I can't believe I get to do what I love both professionally and personally. Just to represent New Zealand and be part of this team that is inspiring new generations of girls to play football in New Zealand and being pioneers. Every game is huge for me when I get to wear this jersey. I don't think I will think about it that much. After I hope we can celebrate and celebrate with a win, too."

Football Ferns coach Tony Readings said Riley is a key member of the team both on and off the pitch.

"Ali Riley is the heart and soul of our team," he said.

"People can see what sort of player she is on the pitch because what she brings is obvious - she's fearless, fit, works through the pain barrier, is really skilful going forward and has lots of pace. But what people don't see is what she brings behind the scenes and that's just as important. She's a great driving force and any successful team needs players like Ali. She's a great role model and inspires others to be the best they can be."

It is fitting that Riley's 100th cap will come against the Matildas as her international career began against Australia in 2007.

While Riley has special memories throughout her successful time with New Zealand over the past nine years, her debut is one she would rather forget.

The Ferns were comprehensively beaten 5-0 by Australia that day and she admits her introduction to international football was a baptism of fire.

"The good thing about this team is we have only got better and better," she said.

"The first few caps, or first few tournaments even are not really my fondest memories. It is more about the countries that we have travelled to and the places we have experienced. We got thrashed in those early years so I definitely like the more recent memories a lot more."

She has countless fond memories but the one highlight would be the 2012 Olympics which she described as "probably one of the greatest experiences of my life".

"We were still such a young team in 2007 and 2008 but in 2012 I felt like we really made a statement," she said.

The Ferns made the quarter-finals at the London Olympics - losing to the eventual champions the United States.

"I remember crying when we beat Cameroon and made it out of the group stage. I will never forget that and I hope this year in August I will make a new memory with the Olympics but that is one of the highlights of my career and I think it always will be."

The Ferns are firstly focused on taking on the old foe on their home turf. Riley reckoned they could not have asked for a better opposition in the lead up to Rio.

She said in terms of their skill and their style, the world No 5 is a good comparison to the US and France.

"It is just a good rivalry and atmosphere and it is good to have that sort of pressure," she said.

"It has been 27 years since we got a win off them. It is that kind of pressure that is fun but also a really hard game that we need in our preparation."

New Zealand v Australia

June 4: Ballarat, 5pm
June 7: Melbourne, 7pm

- NZ Herald

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