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Football Ferns choose experience for Rio squad

Abby Erceg of New Zealand will captain the Football Ferns at her third Olympic games. Photo / Getty
Abby Erceg of New Zealand will captain the Football Ferns at her third Olympic games. Photo / Getty

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has today confirmed the women's football side for the Rio Olympic Games at a special assembly held at Avondale College in Auckland.

New Zealand Women's Football Coach Tony Readings has named a vastly experienced squad for the upcoming Games.

With the 18-strong squad and four travelling reserves confirmed, Readings noted that this was the hardest set of selections he has made during his time in charge of the national team.

The New Zealand Women's Team, ranked No. 17 on the FIFA World Rankings, will face the defending Olympic Champions USA, Colombia (No.24) and France (No.3) when their campaign begins on August 3 in Belo Horizonte.

"This will be my third Olympic Games, along with some of the players, and this has definitely been the toughest squad to choose," said Readings.

"There have been some players who have been very unfortunate to miss out and that just shows the depth of our squad."

Seven players in the squad - captain Abby Erceg, Anna Green, Amber Hearn, Ria Percival, Kirsty Yallop, Katie Duncan and Ali Riley - travel to Brazil for their third Olympic Games.

Five of the squad have played 100 games or more for New Zealand - Erceg (126), Duncan (nee Hoyle) (115), Hearn (112), Percival (116) and Riley (101) - while Yallop if selected will play her 100th game for the team in the opener of the Olympics against the USA.

There are a number of others - Annalie Longo (91), Betsy Hassett (91), Rosie White (81), Sarah Gregorius (78) and Hannah Wilkinson (74) - who have been regulars in the New Zealand Women's Football team over the past eight years or more and have helped the team climb to their highest ever FIFA World Ranking.

Readings said experience is the one of the most important factors when it comes to big tournaments. His team has done a lot of research on what leads to success at major events and the common trend is the teams with the oldest age and experience.

"Having girls who have been to three Olympic Games and to numerous age-group world events means they have been there and done it before," he said.

"That experience will be a key factor when we get to the Olympics, no doubt."

Meanwhile at the other end of the experience spectrum, two of the New Zealand Women's team in Jasmine Pereira and Meikayla Moore are heading to the Olympics for the first time. Katie Bowen was in the travelling reserves for the 2012 London Olympics but is selected in the squad for the first time at an Olympics. Meanwhile, all of the travelling reserves - Catherine Bott, Daisy Cleverley, Paige Satchell and Victoria Esson - are all heading to Rio and hoping to play in their first Olympic Games.

"The good thing about young players is they play with no fear and they fully express themselves which will be important for us at this tournament," said Readings.

New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith spoke at the team announcement and stressed the important role individual sports teams play within the overall makeup of the New Zealand Olympic Games Team.

"A number of the players within this side will head to Rio with a wealth of experience, and the value of this experience to the wider team cannot be underestimated," said Smith.

"The football squad confirmation boosts the team to 172 athletes and these players have the exciting task of being first to compete on August 3rd, two days prior to the opening ceremony.

"We look forward to the first-up tussle against USA and watching our girls fly the flag for New Zealand in those early days of competition."

Coach Tony Readings agrees and said that when they drew the World No.1 USA first up it was the best draw they could have been given. The New Zealand Women's Football team is excited by the challenge of their tough group in Rio and inspiring the New Zealand Olympic team to a great start as the first team in action.

"We are not the sort of team who just wants to get out the group, we want to get through to right to the end of the tournament. You will likely have to play the USA at some stage in the tournament and you need to beat them. For us to play them first up is a great opportunity," he said.

"We want to make a big statement as a team in this Olympics and we know that we can," said Readings.

"In 20 years' time hopefully we can look back with pride on the legacy we left in women's football in New Zealand. To see the girls work so hard to achieve something like that has been incredible to be a part of."

New Zealand Football Chief Executive Andy Martin commended Readings and his support staff on their planning and preparation in the past four years for this campaign. He believed this side would go to Rio determined to fulfil their potential.

The New Zealand Women's Football team will look to better their quarter-final appearance at the 2012 London Olympic Games and contend for a medal at the Rio Olympic Games.

NZ Football Women's Olympic Squad (Club - NZ unless noted, Caps and Goals for New Zealand)

Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City, USA, 37, 1)
Katie Duncan (vc) (FC Zurich, Switzerland, 115, 1)
Abby Erceg (c) (Western New York Flash USA, 126, 6)
Anna Green (Malbackens IF Sweden, 60, 7)
Sarah Gregorius (Speranza FC Osaka-Takatsuki, Japan, 78, 24)
Betsy Hassett (Werder Bremen, Germany, 91, 8)
Amber Hearn (USV Jena, Germany, 112, 50)
Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical, 91, 8)
Meikayla Moore (Norwest United, 14, 0)
Erin Nayler (Norwest United, 40, 0)
Ria Percival (USV Jena, Germany, 116, 11)
Jasmine Pereira (Three Kings United, 18, 0)
Ali Riley (FC Rosengard, Sweden, 101, 1)
Rebecca Rolls (Three Kings Utd, 22, 0)
Rebekah Stott (SC Sand, Germany, 49, 4)
Rosie White (Liverpool FC, England, 81, 14)
Hannah Wilkinson (University of Tennessee, USA, 74, 23)
Kirsty Yallop (Malbackens IF, Sweden, 99, 12)

P Athletes (Travelling Reserves):

Catherine (CJ) Bott (Forrest Hill Milford United AFC, 3, 0)
Daisy Cleverley (Forrest Hill Milford Utd AFC, 3, 2)
Victoria Esson (Ferrymead Bays, 0, 0)
Paige Satchell (Three Kings United, 1, 0)

New Zealand Women's Draw at the Rio Olympic Games

August 3 v USA at Belo Horizonte
August 6 v Colombia at Belo Horizonte
August 9 v France at Salvador

- NZ Herald

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