Ever since Australia left the Oceania Football Confederation for Asia, qualification for World Cups is a sure thing for New Zealand. The OFC gets one spot, and while the Football Ferns are far from dominant outside of their confederation, within it they’re leaps and bounds above everyone else. This makes it difficult to gauge how good they really are, but I have a sneaking suspicion about this team that they’re ready to go further than they have before.
New Zealand players are more recognizable than they’ve ever been. While they have a slew of domestically-based players, and a handful of players without teams, there are players sprinkled around France, England, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and the United States.
How They’ve Fared
This is New Zealand’s fifth World Cup. They’ve never advanced from the group stage.
How They Qualified
The Football Ferns won Group B of the 2018 OFC Cup, winning all three games, scoring 27 goals and allowing zero. They beat New Caledonia in the semifinals by a score of 8-0, and did the same against Fiji in the final to qualify for the World Cup.
Player You Know
It seems as though Ali Riley’s been around forever. She first appeared in the US as a professional with FC Gold Pride of the now-defunct WPS, where she was Rookie of the Year in 2010. She moved from there to the Western New York Flash, and in 2012 she moved to Sweden after WPS folded, where she played for what is now FC Rosengard for seven seasons. Today she’s a Chelsea player, and the 31-year-old fullback is the captain for her country.
Player You’ll Know Soon
You might already be familiar with Rosie White, who played for UCLA in college, and spent two seasons in NWSL with the Boston Breakers and Chicago Red Stars. After the 2018 season, White left Chicago, and since then the 26-year-old has gone home to train with men at the Phoenix Academy in Wellington. With fellow forward Hannah Wilkinson having just returned from a torn ACL, much of the goal scoring burden may fall to White, who is far from inexperienced. This spring she crossed the 100-cap threshold, and with 24 international goals to her name, she’ll likely need to score a few more if her country is to advance.
World Cup Outlook
Results for New Zealand have been mixed since Tom Sermanni took over as coach. This year he’s overseen an understandable 2-0 loss to Australia, and a less understandable loss to South Korea by the same score. On the flip side, he’s guided his team to a 2-0 win over fellow World Cup side Argentina, a 1-0 win over Norway, and most notably a 1-0 win over England in England in the days before the start of the tournament. If his side can beat Cameroon, not only would it be their first ever World Cup win, but they would be in a good position to advance to the knockout stage as a third place team. I think we’ll see it happen.