Will Football Ferns' lack of success take the shine off World Cup?

  • 14/04/2023
The full time whistle sounds, Women s International Friendly - New Zealand Football Ferns v Argentina at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Thursday 23 February 2023. Copyright Photo: Shane Wenzlick

By Stephen Hewson for RNZ

This week marked 100 days until the women's Football World Cup kicks off in Aotearoa.

Anticipation is building, unfortunately the Football Ferns performances are dwindling.

Jitka Klimková was appointed national coach in September 2021 and given a six year contract through until the 2027 World Cup.

She has come through coaching ranks in New Zealand, having served as head coach of the Women's U-17s at the FIFA 2014 U-17 Women's World Cup and as assistant coach to the Women's U-20s and the Football Ferns.

New Zealand Football seemingly is taking a long term approach with Klimkova and the Ferns - and just as well for the stats make pretty grim reading.

In her 18 months at the helm Klimkova's side has played 14 games and won just one.

The opposition have scored 35 goals against the Ferns, while they've found the back of the net just five times.

Yes the bulk of the opposition have been ranked higher than New Zealand which currently sits 25th on the FIFA world rankings.

NZ in action against Iceland.
NZ in action against Iceland. Photo credit: Photosport

No the expectation is not that they will beat the likes of world champions USA - but there is an expectation they'll be more competitive than the two 5-nil and one 4-nil losses, they've suffered in the three games they have played against them.

The sole win was against 17th ranked South Korea back in November 2021 - a 2-nil victory.

It's the 5-nil losses to the likes of Portugal ranked 21st, two losses to Argentina ranked 28th that really sting.

Three games where the Ferns conceded eight goals but failed to score.

The killer blow though is this week's 3-nil loss to Nigeria who're ranked 42nd.

Leaking goals and again failing to score.

Building the Football Ferns was always going to a long term project.

Previous coach Tom Sermani who had coached both the USA and Australia women's teams spent three years in the role - although unlike Klimkova's his contract was not full time.

Comparing wins and loss may seem a little unfair when the Football Ferns were trouncing their Pacific neighbours by ten goals or more.

Coach Jitka Klimkova.
Coach Jitka Klimkova. Photo credit: Getty Images

But New Zealand also top ten sides such as the USA, England, Canada, Netherlands and Australia and generally weren't outclassed.

Yes there was a 5-nil loss to the USA but there was also a 1-nil win over England and margins were much closer - the side showed grit and determination.

When she was appointed Klimkova stated: "Our goal is to win our first ever games during the World Cup. And what is the better timing than at home on our home soil?"

World Cup wins seem some way off for this side.

Former Football Ferns Maia Jackman believes the 2023 tournament has possibly come too soon for this team.

Just three of the squad that went to Turkey for the games against Iceland and Nigeria had played more than 100 internationals, while their were eleven with less than 20 games under their belts.

"It's a team that needs to rebuild, find who they are and find those next leaders who now need to step up," Jackman told RNZ.

"There'll be a lot of development that will go into the next World Cup cycle, so it's too soon for this group of players now I imagine."

Jackman doesn't believe local fans will gauge the success of the tournament by how well the Ferns perform.

"New Zealanders may not realise the enormity of what's coming down to these shores."

However Jackman says the Ferns can still make an impression at the World Cup and should expect results in their pool against Norway, the Philippines and Switzerland.

"They've got three months and they'll be in a concentrated environment from May and that's a really really crucial time for them to get on the same page.

"They can work on things on a consistent daily basis, not just for a week when they're in camp before a game, so they can look at the bigger picture of what they want to achieve.

"World Cups bring out the best in players and I believe come 20th of July we'll see a different Football Ferns outfit.

New Zealand play the tournament opener against 12th ranked Norway on July 20 in Auckland, then take on the 49th ranked Philippines on July 25 in Wellington, followed by the 20th ranked Swiss in Dunedin on July 30.