Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Pereira living Football Ferns Olympic dream

The New Zealand Womens Football Team heading to the Olympics. Photo / Getty
The New Zealand Womens Football Team heading to the Olympics. Photo / Getty

Jasmine Pereira is living every school athlete's dream. Four years ago Pereira was just another excited kid at Avondale College, avidly watching all the action from the London Olympics.

Today, the 19-year-old was back at the West Auckland school - but this time up on stage - as one of the youngest members of the 18-strong New Zealand women's football squad named for the Rio Olympics.

It was extra special for Pereira, one of four Avondale College alumni - along with Kirsty Yallop, Amber Hearn and Betsy Hassett - to be selected by coach Tony Readings.

"It wasn't so long ago that I was one of those kids in that assembly," said Pereira. "I always looked up to those athletes going to the Olympics, thought it was pretty amazing, so to be part of it is quite special."

Avondale College has a strong sporting tradition - the likes of Martin Guptill, Francis Meli, Emily Drumm and Sir Murray Halberg passed through the doors - and an established footballing reputation.

But to have almost one-quarter of the Football Ferns' Olympic squad is quite an achievement, especially as the school doesn't have the financial muscle of other institutions.

"When I was at school, it was one of the places to go to for women's football," said Yallop, a 12-year veteran of the Ferns who made her debut as a seventh former in 2004. "There was Hayley [Bowden], Maia Jackman and Kristy Hill, while Amber [Hearn] was a couple of years older than me."

The fourth member of the quartet is midfielder Hassett, who has played professionally in England and Germany since her school days.

"I've seen a couple of teachers today. It all feels very familiar," said Hassett. "Someone like Kirsty [Yallop] inspired me a lot. When you saw someone at your school playing for New Zealand you realised what was possible."

The hundreds of pupils at today's announcement created a special energy, but there were few surprises in Readings' squad. It's easily the most experienced team in Ferns' history, with five players boasting more than 100 caps (Abby Erceg, Katie Duncan, Hearn, Ria Percival and Ali Riley) and another six who have more than 70 appearances. There are seven players who played in both Beijing and London, and only two members of the squad have yet to experience an Olympics.

"It makes such a difference when you have been there, done that," said Yallop. "It means you are more prepared for everything that might happen."

And just like they did before the 2015 Women's World Cup, Readings and his team aren't holding back from making bold pronouncements.

"It's the strongest team we have ever assembled," said Readings. "We are going there to win a gold medal. Whether people think that it is realistic or not, we are not really bothered. We have set gold medal standards. Everything we do is [around aiming] to be the best in the world. We will take it one game at a time and once you get out of your group you are a game away from a medal. We will strive for the top spot and do the best we can."

NZ Olympic squad: Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City), Katie Duncan (FC Zurich), Abby Erceg (Western New York Flash), Anna Green (Malbackens IF), Sarah Gregorius (Speranza FC Osaka-Takatsuki), Betsy Hassett (Werder Bremen), Amber Hearn (USV Jena), Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical), Meikayla Moore (Norwest United), Erin Nayler (Norwest United), Ria Percival (USV Jena), Jasmine Pereira (Three Kings United), Ali Riley (FC Rosengard), Rebecca Rolls (Three Kings Utd), Rebekah Stott (SC Sand), Rosie White (Liverpool), Hannah Wilkinson (University of Tennessee), Kirsty Yallop (Malbackens IF).

- NZ Herald

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