A little over 18 months after New Zealand took points off China and hosts Canada at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Tony Reading’s side failed to pick up a single point in the group stage of the Cyprus Cup. Only a generous format prevented them from being related to the bottom placement match last Wednesday.
With controversy surrounding their pre-tournament preparations when captain Abby Erceg announced her sudden retirement, it was clear all was not well within the team but Erceg temporarily reversed her decision in order to compete in Cyprus.
“At the moment I’ve made a stand because things need to change,” said Erceg. “I can miss games and then want to come back, that’s the nature of it because we’ve dedicated our lives to it but whether I’m here in six months or next year is yet to be seen, there’s just a couple of things I’d like to see change.”
Just a week before the tournament was due to kick-off, the North Carolina Courage center back took to Instagram to voice her frustrations with New Zealand football, saying she just wants to see more support for the team.
“For a country like New Zealand, we have to reinvent ourselves every four years because we don’t have the depth to compete regularly on the world stage. To do that we need more support than we’re getting now, we’re not training less or working less than any other teams at the end of the day.”
Striker Rosie White scored New Zealand’s first goal of the tournament last week against Scotland and the new Boston Breakers acquisition admits it’s a difficult time for the squad after losing all three group matches.
“We’ve come together for the first time in about eight months and we’ve just found it hard to hit our stride,” said the 23-year-old.
“The squad is a little bit unsettled at the moment but I think it’s a new era for us right now, we’re trying new things and there’s always going to be a batch of discomfort and I think that’s what we’re going through right now.”
Despite the internal issues and lack of wins on the pitch, Erceg in particular is optimistic about the squad’s future if they get the necessary support that the defender feels is currently lacking.
“For a long time we’ve had a really, really solid team and it’s going to take a few years for the youngsters to gain the necessary experience,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes when you have that four-year goal ahead of you that you’re aiming for and sometimes it doesn’t turn out as you want it to but we’re working really hard right now.”
White added: “The World Cup is obviously the pinnacle for us, we don’t have a really long qualifying period to go through so we need to take this year and next year to re-establish ourselves, change things and define how we want to play.”
It’s only four years ago since the Football Ferns finished third in the same competition after two late goals saw them overturn a 1-0 deficit to this year’s winner Switzerland.
Since then they’ve consistently picked up results against some of the top nations in the world and White sees no reason why they can’t continue to if they can add consistency to their game.
She said: “On our day we can produce chances but in the past we’ve just struggled to find that final piece and it’s held us back a lot. We can do it in periods and specific games but we just need to be consistent.”
Captain Erceg echoed White’s thoughts, referencing key matches from her time with the squad over the last few years. “I think we’ve shown we can do it, we play against the best constantly and got results against South Korea, Japan and Brazil.
“We’ve come really close in games against the US, it’s not a matter of us performing, it’s maintaining that level, just imagine what we could do if we had just that little bit more support.”
Having salvaged the placement game by defeating Hungary 3-1 to secure 9th position out of 12, both players are USA bound as they embark on varying new challenges within their own careers. Erceg has relocated to North Carolina after Western New York Flash’s NWSL triumph in 2016 whilst White has left Liverpool Ladies to reunite with Matt Beard in Boston.
After winning the NWSL with the Flash at the end of 2016, Erceg sees no reason why they can’t build on that success in North Carolina and praised Paul Riley for his approach to their campaign.
“Any step forward is good progression because you don’t want to stand still,” said the 27-year-old. “That’s why I don’t mind the move, the owners achieved what they wanted to achieve and they’ve passed the buck on. They were great and we’ve thanked them for the support but now it’s about moving forward.”
Erceg added: “We didn’t think we could even challenge last year, we just took it game by game and Paul was really good at that actually. It just happened to work for us, we got results and we stayed on that path for the whole year. He gave us a lot of belief and the girls got a lot of confidence from it given we’d finished (7th) the year before.”
For White it’s a whole new challenge, after experiencing professional football for the first time in her career in England, the striker admits former Liverpool boss Matt Beard was a big influence in her decision to sign for the Breakers.
“It’s a new challenge and it’s really, really exciting,” said White. “I really enjoyed playing for Matt and I had an amazing time in Liverpool – it was so good for my career. Boston didn’t have a good season last year but Matt’s pulling together a new team and I think it’s a fresh start for everyone.
“I really enjoyed playing in England, it was my first taste of professional football and I think learned a lot about myself there. But it was also a lifestyle choice to move here and obviously Matt was a big part of that decision.”
With the NWSL flourishing and the US national team world champions, Erceg believes the league is still one of the strongest but all the competitive leagues can learn from each other in the next few years.
“You don’t want to say it but money has a lot to do with it,” she admitted. “The USA team does really well and that’s great for attention and sponsors come on board which helps things. Support wise it’s probably number one in that sense, we’ve got TV contracts but the style is so different to everywhere else too.
“England has a different style, Japan has a different style, France has a different style and as much as maybe they can learn from the NWSL I think the NWSL can look at other countries and what they do and learn from it. But it’s strong and fast and athletic which I like so it’s a very different challenge for many people.”