A formidable Football Ferns squad has been named by coach John Herdman to contest the OFC Womenís Nations Cup tournament on North Harbour Stadiumís outer oval late this month, the winner of which qualifies as Oceaniaís representative for the 2011 FIFA Womenís World Cup Finals in Germany.
The calibre of the nineteen players named sends a clear message to the island nations who also have their eyes on the prize - the Football Ferns have every intention of retaining their position at the pinnacle of Oceaniaís womenís football, and itíll take something pretty special to stop them.
The Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu - itís the first time eight nations have contested the womenís title in Oceania football - will also grace the September 29 - October 8 tournament in Auckland, with PNG likely to provide the Football Ferns with their strongest opposition during the ten-day affair.
Captain Hayley Moorwood, fresh from putting pen to paper on a one-year contract with English Womenís Super League side Chelsea, will lead her country into battle against Vanuatu from 1pm in the tournamentís opening fixture on the 29th, with the Cook Islands (3.30pm, October 1) and Tahiti (1pm, October 3) the other opponents in New Zealandís group.
Moorwood will be joined in the squad by fellow full-time professionals Ali Riley (FC Gold Pride), Rebecca Smith (VFL Wolfsburg) and Kirsty Yallop (Kristianstads DFF), along with Amber Hearn and Ria Percival, who are back home again having completed their latest W-League stint with Canadian champions Ottawa Fury.
The vast majority of the crème de la crème of the locally based Football Ferns will be in action over the course of the tournament, including, for the first time, Sarah Gregorius, who will become the 154th Football Fern when she makes her senior international debut some four years after last sporting the silver fern as a member of the 2006 Junior Ferns squad.
Liz Milne is one of two players who return to Football Ferns duty after last representing New Zealand in Japan last November. The other is poised to achieve a significant personal milestone during the Oceania tournament.
Three more appearances for her country will see Maia Jackman become just the fifth female to earn fifty caps for New Zealand, an honour few would begrudge a fine servant of the womenís game, who made her international debut a mere two months after the youngest member of this squad, Rosie White, was born in 1993.
New Zealandís all-time goalscoring charts could see some significant movement in the course of the next month, with Hearn and Yallop well capable of inflicting some serious damage on opposition goal nets during the Oceania tournament, to the point where they could go close to challenging Maureen Jacobsonís haul of twenty goals, a tally second only to Wendy Sharpe (29 goals).
Medical grounds have seen Annalie Longo,
currently making a swift recovery from surgery to correct a long-standing injury concern, and Hannah Wall omitted from this squad, while Betsy Hassett is sidelined by her study commitments at Berkeley University.
The OFC Nations Cup tournament has been timed to take place in the school holidays, and during its course will feature a highly significant occasion in the thirty-eight year history of New Zealand womenís football.
The semi-final will be the 150th "A" international in New Zealandís history, and itís hoped that as many former Football Ferns and coaching staff as possible will head along to North Harbour Stadium on October 6 in particular to play their part in celebrating a milestone which their contributions over the years have helped make possible.
After the October 8 final, the Football Ferns will head to the Korea Republic to contest the bi-annual Peace Queen Cup tournament. They kick off the event against the host nation on October 17, then play Belarus four days later, in what will be New ZealandĎs thirteenth international this year.
Should they win their group, the Football Ferns will play either Australia, Mexico or Taiwan in the Peace Queen Cup Final on October 23. Jenny Bindon and Abby Erceg could both make their fiftieth appearances for New Zealand during the course of this tournament.