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Friday, October 07 2022
Football Ferns to make return home as World Cup build-up begins

The long-awaited homecoming for the Football Ferns has been confirmed.

The team will play two matches in Christchurch next month, representing their first games on New Zealand soil in more than four years.

The Ferns will face world No 18 South Korea on Saturday November 12 (2:30pm) and Tuesday November 15 (6pm), with both games at Orangetheory Stadium.

It has been a goal of New Zealand Football to bring the senior national teams back to play in front of their fans and is particularly important for the Ferns, given the World Cup is only eight months away.

After the series with Korea, the Ferns (world No 22) will also play three games in Auckland and Hamilton in parallel to the World Cup playoff tournament, where 10 teams will vie for the last three tournament spots.

"We are looking at a full calendar of home matches for the Ferns right up until the World Cup kicks off on 20 July," said NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell.

The last time New Zealand played at home was a 3-1 defeat by Japan in June 2018, a game that was notable as the final match under controversial former coach Andreas Heraf.

Since then the Ferns have played 36 consecutive offshore matches, though they have at least been closer to home than the All Whites were during their long isolation, with matches in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in 2019 and the two-game series against the Matildas in Townsville and Canberra in April.

Home matches have traditionally been sparse for the Ferns.

Since the Oceania World Cup qualifying series in Auckland in 2010 (five games) they have played on just eight further occasions in New Zealand, with matches in Auckland (five), Wellington, Whangārei and Taupō.

The Ferns haven't played in Christchurch since 1991 (a 0-0 draw with Australia) but it is an appropriate time to return.

The garden city has been a stronghold of the female game in the last decade, with the Canterbury United Pride winning the national title six times since 2013.

There are a number of current or former Ferns from the region, including Meikayla Moore, Vic Esson, Gabi Rennie, Kate Taylor, Ashleigh Ward and Lily Alfeld.

"To know that we are getting to play in Christchurch, where I'm from and where a couple of the girls hail from is pretty cool," said Moore. "I'm really looking forward to those two games and hopefully we can put on a really good show for those that turn out."

Playing the games there will also strengthen the case for Christchurch to be chosen as a team base camp for next year's World Cup, after the city missed out on hosting matches, with Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin preferred, as they lacked a suitable stadium.

The series will also be an early litmus test for the depth of support for the Ferns, ahead of next year.

They attracted around 7000 fans to the Japan match four years ago.

The team has a strong following within the football community here but has yet to translate that into a wider base.

Meanwhile, the team will take on Japan on Sunday after victories earlier this month over Mexico (1-0) and the Philippines (2-1), which broke a long winless streak.

However Mexico (No 37) missed qualifying for the 2023 World Cup, with United States, Costa Rica, Canada and Jamaica emerging from Concacaf, while the Philippines (No 53) are ranked below nine other Asian teams.

Japan (No 11) will be a different proposition, one of the most consistent teams in the world over the last decade.

They are undefeated since February, when they were eliminated on penalties by China in the semifinals of the AFC Women's Championship. Since then they have beaten Serbia, Finland, South Korea and Taiwan.

"We want to be a good competitor for Japan, we will be ready to surprise them with our counter and transition," said coach Jitka Klimkova.

Posted by: AT 03:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email