New Zealand’s Football Ferns, still smarting from a series loss on home soil to Australia within the past week, will be looking to make amends for those 3-0 defeats when they contest the Cyprus Women’s Cup over the course of the next fortnight.
A 26.5 hour passage via Sydney and Dubai has seen John Herdman’s charges arrive in the Mediterranean island nation itching to put those results behind them as they bid to improve on their fourth placing in last year’s version of one of women’s football’s more recently introduced competitions.
There were plenty of benefits to be had from the Australian clashes, however, as the Football Ferns mentor explained prior to departure. "We rubbed the rust off in the first game, and definitely competed the second time around.
"We matched Australia competitively on Saturday, and showed heart, character, some good build-up play, and had enough chances to score - I was happy with that performance, if not the result.
"Australia, just as they showed on Wednesday night, have a ruthlessness about them - they’re clinical. One mistake and they punish you. Hopefully we can apply that clinical aspect to our play in Cyprus".
Football Ferns captain, Hayley Moorwood, is still smarting from being sent off for the first time in her career late in the first match of the trans-Tasman series. While she would far rather have played in Saturday’s Bill McKinlay Park clash, the brief respite means Moorwood will be fighting fit for the squad’s first assignment in Cyprus.
"The Australian series and Cyprus Cup tournament present us with six games in fifteen days, plus travel", she says, "so it’s important that we recover well. We have to make sure we do the right things after every training session and every game. This is down to our nutrition, our walks and our stretches, our ice baths, and of course rest.
"The team is up for a challenge", continued the captain. "We may have exceeded expectations at last year’s Cyprus Cup, but this year we want even better results. We want to be in the final, and we’ll be very disappointed if we don’t get there".
They face some tough opposition over the course of the next few days, with Italy, Holland and Scotland the other teams in their group. Herdman already has some idea of what the Football Ferns can expect.
"Italy are a solid, well organised and very disciplined team, and we’ll need to deal with the threat posed by a couple of their long-serving players who make the team tick.
"Holland, whom we defeated at this tournament last year, will have revenge on their mind without a doubt. They had a great European Championships, and are now full-time professionals as a result of their efforts in that event. A tough game, no question.
"As for Scotland, they certainly won’t be easy-beats. They’ve had a couple of good results against Russia in recent times, and they’ve definitely got experience in their squad. But so have we, and our girls will be up for the challenge, without a doubt".
Moorwood endorses her coach’s thoughts. "I think teams now know they have to take the Football Ferns seriously. We’re not there to make up numbers, we’re there to get us results, as our 2-0 win against Holland in last year’s tournament proved.
"That result cemented that fact that the Football Ferns can win on the world stage, and that this was only the beginning".
The challenge now is to build on that win, starting against Italy from 4am NZ time on Thursday in Nicosia. The ‘Azzurre’ were beaten quarter-finalists in Euro 2009, and have since won four matches on the bounce, with this tournament playing a pivotal role in their bid to qualify for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals in Germany.
They are currently top of their European qualifying group, and in striker Patrizia Panico, Spanish-based midfielder Pamela Conti and American-based goalkeeper Anna-Maria Picarelli, the star of a strong defensive combination which has conceded just two goals in their last six games, they boast players who can make life very difficult for NZ’s finest.
But the Football Ferns will be strengthened by the return of German-based professional Rebecca Smith to the heart of their defence, not to mention Moorwood’s return from suspension, and the passion which goalkeeper Jenny Bindon will bring to the team as she bids to mark her last game as a 36-year-old with a clean sheet that contributes to a win.
Injury has forced a late change to the Football Ferns squad, with Ria Percival’s absence - having just returned from an injury to the same knee, the victim of a crude challenge by Australian captain Collette McCallum in Saturday’s clash is out of action for a further six weeks - presents replacement Liz Milne with an opportunity to shine.
After the Italian job, the Football Ferns take on Holland in Larnaca from 1am on Saturday morning, and Scotland at the same time and venue three days later, before a play-off against either Canada, England - the Cyprus Cup holders, South Africa or Switzerland on the morning of March 4, NZ time.