Olympics: Preview Notes – New Zealand (Group E)

The Football Ferns, lovable underdogs from the islands east of a Land Down Under (plus points farther east like California, Illinois, and England) are hoping to finally take flight, even though they are Kiwis. But, unlike New Zealand’s flightless national symbol, these chicks ladies could take off.

With John Herdman leaving Middle Earth for Hollywood North, former New Zealand Youth Women’s National Teams coach Tony Readings has inherited the role of trying to shepherd the Ferns out of the shadows and into the golden light.

But, for this tournament, New Zealand has a realistic goal of earning certificates of participation… which only go to players of teams who advance to the quarterfinals. And, to get to the knock-out stage, the Ferns either need to finish as a top two team in their group, or — their more likely path — earn one of two wild card spots via a strong third-place finish.

  • How They Qualified: Champions of Oceania’s 2012 qualifying tournament
  • FIFA Rank: #23
  • Previous Olympics: 2008 (Group stage)
  • 2011 WWC Performance: Group Stage
  • Key Players: Amber Hearn (forward), Hannah Wilkinson (forward), Ali Riley (fullback)
  • Head Coach: Tony Readings (Great Britain)
  • Team Captain: Rebecca Smith
  • Recent Form: W, L, L, T, W, W
  • Group Finish Probabilities: 1st, 10%; 2nd, 15%; 3rd, 50%; 4th, 25%
  • Medal Chances: Slim

GROUP CHANCES — To have a solid chance at making the quarterfinals, New Zealand will need at least four points, via a win and a draw, along with a favorable goal differential. The win is definitely possible against Cameroon, whom the Ferns will play on the final group match day, especially if Cameroon is less than 100-percent due to fitness and accumulated yellow cards. The needed draw will be harder to come by, but the most likely chance for that is versus Great Britain in the opening match. However, if the hosts get off to a slow start like England did last year at the Women’s World Cup, then a draw should be quite manageable, and even an upset could be in the works.

RECENT MATCHES — New Zealand has played six tune-ups since May, including two wins over former superpower China, a draw and a loss against there nemesis, Australia, an 0:2 loss versus Canada, and a 2:1 win over Colombia. In those six matches, Amber Hearn has 3 goals,  Hayley Morwood has 2, while Sarah Gregorius and Rebecca Smith each scored one goal.

INJURIES — U-20 forward Rosie White is coming back from a stress fracture in her foot (NZFootball.co.nz). Her first match back was as a 78th minute sub against Canada on July 14th. Then, she played the first 45 minutes against Colombia on July 17th… In that Canada match, left fullback Ali Riley was on the receiving end of a nasty late tackle by Canada’s Robyn Gayle, which caused an ankle injury that now appears to only be minor. As of Monday, July 23rd, Riley has been cleared to play and will likely start the first match versus Great Britain (stuff.co.nz).

KETE QUITS — Emma Kete suddenly quit international soccer at the end of June (Twitter). She had started all four of New Zealand’s previous tune-up friendlies.

PROBABLE STARTERS — With Emma Kete gone that has opened the door for , one of the U-20 forwards, either Rosie White, or more probably, Hannah Wilkinson, to get a start.  If Ali Riley is not in the line-up, Anna Green will probably get a start at fullback. In a change from last year’s Women’s World Cup, Ria Percival is on the backline as a fullback, rather than in the midfield.

Without the benefit of seeing game tapes of their recent matches, the Ferns’ formation is hard to pin down, but last year in Germany, they primarily used a 4-3-1-2 formation, which could be classified as a variant of a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.

With that caveat, here is a best guess at New Zealand’s formation:

Bindon (GK)
Percival (RB) — R. Smith (CB) — Erceg (CB) — Riley (LB)
Longo/Yallop (M) — Hoyle (HM) — Moorwood (M)
Wilkinson (AM)
Hearn (FW) — Gregorius (FW)

Readings’ preference for Annalie Yongo and Kirsty Yallop seems fairly even. Rosie White could get the start ahead of Hannah Wilkinson, but with White’s injury, the safer choice is to start her on the bench.

Edit: Based on the first two matches, it appears that Wilkinson is playing up top, which (duh!) makes sense, with Hearn playing behind the two forwards.

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