Football: New Zealand captain Ali Riley relishing homecoming as final World Cup preparations begin

Despite being captain of the Football Ferns, Ali Riley doesn't spend a lot of time in New Zealand.

But the American-born defender is excited to be back to face her country of birth in two friendlies this month.

It's vital preparation for this year's FIFA Women's World Cup, and for Riley it's a chance to put a "dark chapter" behind her.

The Football Ferns celebrate.
The Football Ferns celebrate. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

Based in the US herself, the 35-year-old is back in New Zealand for the first time in five years.

"I love being back," Riley told Newshub. "The weather is a little different than I expected."

But this is no holiday for Riley. In six months, her team will be kicking off the World Cup in Auckland.

This month's matches against defending champions the USA, though, will be the perfect preparation.

"What processes can we do against an opposition like that? And then fitting that into look ahead to Norway, Philippines and Switzerland, because we've got to start looking at them."

The Football Ferns have never won a game at a World Cup, a disappointing record they're hoping to rectify in their own backyard.

"That's the goal," added Riley. "To do it at home will be very special, because we're going to do it, get our first three points, we want to get out of the group."

After watching the Black Ferns' 2022 triumph, Riley is embracing the expectations of co-hosting a World Cup.

"To do what you love, in front of the people you love, that's pressure.

"But it's an amazing type of pressure."

Next week's series against the USA will also be a chance for Riley to bury the demons of her last trip to New Zealand in 2018 - where Andreas Heraf quit as Football Ferns coach following accusations of bullying and intimidation.

"What happened after that isn't something that brings back good memories," said Riley.

"It's a good chance for me at least to kind of leave the country in a couple of weeks with a really positive feeling about our team, and what we can achieve."

Two good performances against the USA would certainly help.