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

Michael Burgess: Ferns fail to deliver at Cups

Abby Erceg of New Zealand. Photo / Joern Pollex
Abby Erceg of New Zealand. Photo / Joern Pollex

After the fallout from the Abby Erceg affair, we may have reached a cross-roads in women's football in New Zealand.

In the Weekend Herald yesterday, some high-profile former players, as well as Erceg, predicted a decline for the Ferns and possible departures of more players, following the skipper's surprise retirement last week.

The blame has been laid squarely at the feet of NZF - but additional perspective is needed. Although the national body could have done more, the playing group also must take some responsibility.

Whatever way you look at it, they have underachieved at pinnacle events. Since the 2007 Women's World Cup, the Ferns have competed in six major international competitions (World Cups and Olympics) and reached the knockout stages only once. They have developed a habit of achieving great results in friendlies, but being unable to replicate them on the biggest stage.

The Ferns have improved significantly after being out of their depth in China in 2007. But they haven't managed to string together a series of magical performances, which would have put the team on the map, like the 1982 or 2010 All Whites.

The 2015 World Cup was particularly disappointing. The Ferns outplayed Netherlands but lost 1-0, then missed a penalty in a 0-0 draw with Canada. That meant they needed three points against China - who they had beaten in three of their previous four encounters - but they were held to 2-2, although the Asian side benefited from a dubious penalty.

The lack of resources put into the team, and NZF's failure to create a "high performance environment" may have been a handicap but overmatched and under-resourced teams have succeeded in the past.

Sometimes teams are able to rise above the odds, but the Ferns have been unable to do that.

Things have been far from perfect for the squad, but they have had a comparatively large programme of international matches. That has helped to put them in the shop window, and for at least half the team, secure overseas contracts.

It's a far cry from previous decades, when Michelle Cox and Maureen Jacobson were the only Kiwi women playing professionally overseas. And let's not forget, that for a decade from 1998 the Ferns didn't play a single match on home soil.

- NZ Herald

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

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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