From teenage wonder-kid Milly Clegg to veterans with more than 100 caps, the 23 Football Ferns to play the FIFA Women’s World Cup have been confirmed.
Squad announcements are often tinged with emotion, both for those selected and for those who have missed out, and this team naming was no different. With friends and family on hand at Eden Park and shirts presented by past Football Ferns the sense of occasion was palpable. As inaugural Ferns captain Barbara Cox put it “this tournament is the most momentous occasion in the history of football in New Zealand.”
After nine weeks of gruelling training camps, coach Jitka Klimkova had to whittle down a wider squad of 38 player to the 23 for the tournament. 10 of the team will play their first ever senior World Cup, including 17-year-old Clegg, who represented New Zealand at under-17 and under-20 level last year. There’s a strong core of experience, in the likes of captain Ali Riley, midfielder Betsy Hassett, defender Katie Bowen, and Ria Percival, who will play an extraordinary fifth World Cup.
Percival, who will co-captain the side with Riley, and fellow midfielder Annalie Longo have both recovered from serious knee injuries to be fit in time. Watching Percival’s knee go “pop” in a game against Australia last year had most observers fearing the worst for the veteran midfielder but both she and Longo have shown remarkable commitment to their rehabilitation to confirm their places in their team.
Perhaps they looked to team-mate Rebekah Stott for lessons in resilience. In February 2021 she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…. a year later she returned to the field for New Zealand and now she will play in a World Cup on home soil. During her treatment, Stott documented her journey on social media and through her blog, raised 10s of thousands of dollars for cancer research and started her own charity “Beat It By Stotty”, supplying what she calls “cancer bags” full of goodies she felt she need and were helpful during her chemotherapy sessions. We often throw the word inspirational around in sport, Stott defines it.
Among the delight and excitement for those who have been named, there’s also the hard luck stories of the ones who didn’t make the cut.
The most notable omission from the 23, and one that has genuinely surprised the pundits, is defender Meikayla Moore, who has 63 caps but has struggled with a back injury during the training camps. Moore has twice been selected for World Cups but never taken the field; she didn’t play at all in 2015 and ruptured her Achilles tendon days before the 2019 tournament. Talk about a hard luck story.
Moore, Ava Collins and Kate Taylor have been named as reserves.
The Football Ferns will play a warm-up match against Vietnam on July 10th and open their World Cup campaign at Eden Park against Norway on July 20th.
The full squad is: Elizabeth Anton, CJ Bott, Katie Bowen, Claudia Bunge, Olivia Chance, Milly Clegg, Daisy Cleverley, Victoria Esson, Michaela Foster, Jacqui Hand, Betsy Hassett, Grace Jale, Anna Leat, Annalie Longo, Erin Nayler, Ria Percival, Gabi Rennie, Ali Riley, Indiah-Paige Riley, Paige Satchell, Malia Steinmetz, Rebekah Stott, Hannah Wilkinson.
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