To secure qualification for the World Cup, the Ferns had to defend their OFC Women’s Nations Cup title. The tournament, held in late 2018, was made up of 8 teams; New Zealand, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. The Ferns went the entire tournament undefeated, racking up their biggest result over Tonga in the group stages with an 11-0 win, before beating Fiji 8-0 in the final to secure their place in France. This is the fifth World Cup for New Zealand, after failing to qualify in 1995, 1999 and 2003.
The Ferns form since securing qualification has been rather unpredictable. After only winning 1 game in the 2019 Cup of Nations (2-0 against Argentina), the Ferns have won 3 out of 4 friendlies in their lead up to the World Cup; losing 5-0 to the USA, with Wales still to play before they fly to France. Their 1-0 win over England’s Lionesses on June 1st made history for the country, as it was the first time New Zealand had beaten England in women’s football.
Head Coach Tom Sermanni has selected a squad with a wealth of experience to compete in France. New Zealand’s most capped player Ria Percival will compete in her 4th World Cup in the summer. Defender Percival has 135 caps and has scored 14 goals since her senior debut in 2006. She currently plays in England, for West Ham United, where she recently played in
the FA Cup Final at Wembley in the clubs first professional season. Forward Sarah Gregorius has been called up to the squad for her third World Cup. The squad’s highest goal scorer has 33 goals in 91 appearances, including scoring the only goal in their win over England. Another player ready for her third World Cup is Hannah Wilkinson. Having overcome many injury problems in the last few years, Wilkinson’s remarkable recovery from an ACL injury has meant she is fit and ready to go in France. Captain Ali Riley will compete in her fourth World Cup, and currently has 123 caps. The defender, currently playing her club football at Chelsea, has been captain of the Ferns since 2017.
My ‘Player to Watch’ for the Ferns in the World Cup is goalkeeper Erin Nayler (jersey number 1). Nayler made her senior debut in 2013, after making 10 appearances for the U-20 side. She has 61 senior caps and will be competing in her third World Cup in France. Nayler currently plays her club football in Bordeaux, France. The Ferns will heavily benefit from Nayler’s leadership at the back, as well as her ability to come off her line and anticipate play if they are going to stop goal scoring opportunities from world class players such as the Netherlands’ Vivianne Miedema and Canada’s Christine Sinclair in the group stage. In their most recent win over England, she made a number of crucial saves to ensure the team walked away with a clean sheet and was named ‘Player of the Match’. Nayler will be an essential part of ensuring the Ferns progress in this year’s World Cup.
Having never made it out of the group stages at a World Cup, New Zealand will be determined to go that one step further in 2019. However, they are joined in group E by current European Champions the Netherlands and Canada (who are 5th in the World Rankings), as well as Cameroon, who are competing at only their second World Cup after first qualifying in 2015.
The Ferns begin their World Cup journey in Le Harve, against the Netherlands, on June 11th. They will then face Canada on June 15th and Cameroon on June 20th.