Football: NZ coach Jitka Klimkova defends scheduling of USA series outside FIFA international window

Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova has passionately defended NZ Football’s decision to schedule their two-match friendly series outside a FIFA window, after her understrength side fell to the world champions at Wellington. 

Klimkova has had to call up several inexperienced players to her squad, after many A-League and European clubs decided not to release their senior Kiwi players for the series. 

Despite fighting hard throughout the opening defeat, the Ferns clearly missed this experience, as the superstars of world football scored four unanswered goals in the second half. 

The Czech-born coach has been quick to hit back at critics who questioned NZ Football's decision to play the USA when they were unlikely to have access to key players, particularly with a home World Cup on the horizon.

"We all know this is outside of the FIFA window and it was a huge question - specifically from media I would say - asking why are we organising these games, when we know we can’t have all players in," said Kilmkova.

"I think if you look at the outcome of what just happened, it's so positive. Again, if someone thinks that it was not a smart idea to bring USA outside of the FIFA window, that’s their problem."  

Although Klimkova admits "it was difficult to put the roster together", she claimed the timing of the series provided a fantastic opportunity to give some younger players a chance to go up against the best in the world. 

Defender Grace Neville, 22, marked her first official cap with a start at right-back, while Wellington Phoenix midfielder Grace Wisnewski became Football Fern No.200, when she came on in the 71st minute. 

"You can look at this as a huge challenge - why are we doing it? - or you can look at it as a huge opportunity for something new," Klimkova said. 

"It's an opportunity for those players we hadn’t seen for a while. What a great chance for them to come here, to have the feeling of what does it actually mean to play at home, knowing that in six months, we will be back here in Wellington and I’m sure we are going to break another record.

"If you look at just the result, it's a big number, but if you look at the challenges we had and how we faced it, I would do it again."

Coach Jitka Klimkova and Olivia Chance confront media
Coach Jitka Klimkova and Olivia Chance confront media. Photo credit: Photosport

Experienced Fern Olivia Chance, who was released to play by Scottish club Celtic FC, shares the views of her coach, saying that opportunities to play at home don’t come around often.

"I've been in this team since 2011 and the first time I played in New Zealand was last year in Christchurch, so every opportunity I get to play at home means the world to me." 

In fact, the upcoming game in Auckland on Saturday will be the first time the Ferns have ever played in New Zealand’s national stadium. Klimkova cites that historic moment as another reason why her side will never turn down a chance to play at home. 

"You know how much it means for the players, for the staff, to actually play with the crowd that is behind them?

"It’s such a unique year for us. We play in six months at the World Cup at home, so we are taking any opportunity we can to play games especially at home. 

"I am very happy we organised these two games."

With a record crowd of 12,508 pouring into Sky Stadium for the opener, Kiwi football fans seem to share that feeling. 

Klimkova and her Ferns have another chance to use the home crowd to their advantage, when they take on USA at Eden Park.