Under-17 Football Ferns arrive home after historic World Cup campaign

The history-making Football Ferns U17 returned to New Zealand soil on Tuesday morning, still abuzz after their World Cup heroics.

Their third-place finish at the World Cup in Uruguay was the first time a New Zealand team had claimed a medal at any FIFA world tournament. They upset the hosts during pool play, then beat Japan and Canada to seal the podium finish.

A small, yet vocal welcoming group was on hand at Auckland International Airport, where proud friends and family embraced the youngsters in emotional scenes.

The team huddled and unleashed their team chant one last time for the road, before they went their separate ways, with one of the players delivering a heartfelt parting message to the side.

Manager Leon Birnie admitted he was still coming to terms with what his side had accomplished.

"We said to them, 'dare to dream'," Birnie told Newshub. "We said that well before we got over to Uruguay.

"I thought we could create some history. Our goals were to get a win and get out of the group, and as the tournament went on, we got more and more confident as a group.

"To get that bronze medal was just a special moment for everyone involved."

Birnie said he started to see genuine belief within the team that they were capable of making an impression, after their pre-tournament friendly win against Canada, which lifted to another level after their quarter-final triumph.

"We were telling them all along they were good enough. We were realistic with them, we told them it was going to be hard, but when they had that win, you could just see the confidence was there.

"They knew they could compete with anyone.

"The Japan win was huge for us. They're a quality side, one of the powerhouses of women's football.

"When they beat them, the players felt they were unstoppable."

The Kiwi girls put forward a bold display against heavyweights Spain in the semi-final, but ultimately fell short.

Birnie believes this landmark moment in NZ football will only lead to further success on the international stage, as this wave of young players advances through to the top levels.

"There's a lot of good work gone into junior football across the country, starting with all the clubs and the federations and schools, and I think that's coming to fruition.

"I think we'll start to see more consistent successes and that's what I'm looking forward to."