Eight weeks since their biggest-ever success story, the Football Ferns are optimistic for the next chapter.
New Zealand are “switched on” ahead of their friendly against Chile tomorrow as they look to grow from their historic home World Cup experience.
“This game that is in front of us... it’s not an easy task, but the Football Ferns are professional and really looking [at] what can we do now to perform,” coach Jitka Klimková said.
For the last three years, the sole focus was their home 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign and how they could make history. After achieving that and captivating a nation, the New Zealand women now hope to carry the momentum and continue building as a team with increased eyes on them.
The Kiwis start their clean slate, less than a year out from the Olympics, 6,000 miles from home. Though not completely unusual territory, it’s an adjustment from where the team had been based – comfortably at home – for close to two months.
“Being here in Chile, it’s been pretty challenging,” Klimková said.
“We just came from the World Cup where everything was world-class.
“These conditions [in Chile] are a little bit different... but we are adjusting and we are, preparing ourselves.”
Klimková said the team are trying to “control what they can control” – a philosophy they carried throughout the World Cup that they believed contributed to their success.
Captain Ali Riley spoke about the mindset shift from playing in front of sold-out crowds to the two upcoming friendlies, with not a lot at stake.
She said there’s always pressure playing for the Ferns, but it’s something she’s grateful for and never takes for granted.
“I’ve always felt pressure to help lead this team in a good way, to help this team be successful to win games [and] to inspire girls – that wasn’t something new that was at the World Cup.”
However, the skipper said the difference between the World Cup and the upcoming international window is that was a “pivotal moment” where they had to thrive under pressure. This month’s series, though the pressure to perform remains, provides more time to address post-tournament emotions.
“It’s a time to give ourselves some grace and to be patient with each other,” said Riley.
Klimková wants to use the two fixtures as an opportunity to see more players: The likes of Milly Clegg, Michaela Foster and Grace Jale, who had limited or no game time last month.
“We are aware of the players [at] new clubs and starting preseason after a little recovery time after the World Cup, so we have to be very smart because the priority for us is to keep our players healthy long-term.”
The Ferns haven’t been able to scout much of the 41-ranked side’s playing style as they have signed a new coach recently, but Riley said what’s clear is their technical ability.
“I think they will just be free in their movement and getting on the ball – so we know that means we have to be organised, we know we’re gonna be compact.
“Individual defending is going to be really important, and again, just growing off the performances and the progress we made during the World Cup.
“Being very conscious that this is an opposition that is different than the three we had in the World Cup.
“[It’s] getting back in that cycle of playing friendlies and playing different types of oppositions and not having a super long time or the ability to scout them,” said Riley.
“But I think that’s a challenge that we are, are ready for.”
Football Ferns fixtures
Chile vs Football Ferns: Sunday 24 September, Santiago, Chile, 11am [NZT] - Free broadcast in Aotearoa New Zealand is on FIFA+
Chile vs Football Ferns: Wednesday 27 September, Santiago, Chile, 3am [NZT] (behind closed doors)
Bonnie Jansen is a Multimedia Journalist in the NZME Sports team. She’s a keen footballer and has worked with the Alternative Commentary Collective before joining the Te Rito cadetship scheme.