Thursday 29 November 2018, 02:30

New Zealanders on a high despite defeat

  • New Zealand reflect on historic achievement

  • Captain Aneka Mittendorff and Gabi Rennie talk with

  • Head coach Leon Birnie speaks of legacy left

“We made history when we got past the group phase for the first time and we made history again when we reached the semi-finals. We gave it our all on the pitch. The girls can be proud of themselves.”

Having overcome the initial disappointment of his side’s semi-final defeat to Spain, New Zealand coach Leon Birnie had nothing but praise for his players’ efforts.

And not without good reason. After finishing group runners-up to Ghana to advance to the last eight, the Kiwis secured their first victory in 16 attempts against Japan – defeating them on penalties – and then battled it out with reigning European champions Spain for a place in the final.

In summing up their showing, Birnie pointed to the key role his charges are playing in the development of women’s football in New Zealand: “This is a wonderful time for football in our country. I hope these girls have lit the touchpaper for a whole movement and have encouraged the next generation to go out and play this sport. That, to my mind, is the biggest victory of all.”

Players of New Zealand celebrate the victory 

So what message does New Zealand’s superb showing on the global stage have for the country’s female football devotees?

“It shows that we, New Zealand, can beat the best teams on the planet thanks to our attitude and work ethic,” said forward Gabi Rennie.

The Kiwis showed that belief in their 2-0 defeat to the Spanish, carrying a genuine threat up front and creating some excellent chances.

“I’m proud to be able to say that that was one of the areas we worked on the most,” said Birnie. “We’ve created a lot of chances in every match.”

“This just goes to show that dreams can come true when you fight for them,” said Aneka Mittendorff, the captain of the Oceanian side. “I think our determination has been one of the keys to our success.”

New Zealand have shown that determination in every match and have been able to implement their gameplan from the off. Proof of that is the fact that all the goals they have scored so far at Uruguay 2018 have come in the first half.

The Kiwis are now hoping to end the tournament on the same positive note: “We want to win the match for third place and make it on to the podium,” said Rennie, revealing her intentions for her last few days in Uruguay.

It goes without saying that her side’s exploits are being closely followed back home, where, if Coach Birnie's hopes are fulfilled, a new generation of young female players will emerge to follow in the footsteps of their pioneering heroes.