New Zealand will host a record crowd for a women’s football match on Wednesday, kick-starting the Women’s World Cup year it is co-hosting with Australia in fine style.
More than 10,000 Kiwis are expected to turn out at Sky Stadium for the visit of world No.1 United States.
The two-time reigning world champions have arranged the tour after being drawn to play their World Cup group games in New Zealand, and have meticulously scheduled their trip to feel like the July tournament.
“We are trying to replicate the the time we have meals, the time we travel, the time we train, basically the whole regiment,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said.
That may be bad news for New Zealand – the world No.24 – who are understrength as they prepare to face a team known for their ruthlessness and professionalism.
The Football Ferns have been hurt by A-League and European clubs, who have decided against releasing senior players as the two-match friendly series falls outside a FIFA-backed window for international matches.
The hard-line stance has pushed coach Jitka Klimkova to call up a string of debutants and amateur players in a bid to fill her squad.
The US have no such issue as the vast majority of their squad play in their domestic league, which is in off-season.
Given the last four meetings have ended in five-goal defeats for New Zealand – including a 6-1 drubbing at the 2021 Olympics – it’s natural to expect a lopsided result.
“We set our goals for this tour as a team and there is really not a goal about talking about the results,” Klimkova said.
“We really want to show how the spirit of the Ferns … I really believe you will see tomorrow a fight.”
American-born New Zealand captain Ali Riley – who plays in Los Angeles – says New Zealand will be better for the experience.
“Yes we are underdogs. There’s no denying it,” Riley said, “but we see every challenge as an opportunity not an obstacle.”
In any case, Wellingtonians have voted with their wallets, with pre-sales indicating they will beat the Football Ferns’ record home crowd of 7236, set in 2018 for a friendly against Japan at the same venue.
In more good news for the women’s game, FIFA have announced record sales for a Women’s World Cup, with over half a million tickets for the tournament sold with six months to go.
New Zealand Football hopes for an even bigger crowd for the second fixture, at Auckland’s Eden Park, on Saturday afternoon.
Riley said support for their against-the-odds cause was crucial to build confidence as they gear up for the World Cup.
“The US is not our opposition in the World Cup,” she said.
“This team, this staff, is doing everything that they can to make sure that we do our country proud every single time we step on the field. And if that’s not a team you can get behind then I’m sorry for you.”
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