Sunday 22 May 2022, 10:00

Stott: 2023 will live up to all the hype

  • Rebekah Stott says Australia & New Zealand 2023 “is going to be huge”

  • The New Zealand defender pinpoints her favourite FIFA Women’s World Cup memory

  • Stott also discusses plans for the next stage of her club career

As Rebekah Stott was battling cancer, there were plenty of moments that would have fully justified a lapse into self-pity.

Just take the terrifying diagnosis itself, or any one of four “horrible” stages of chemotherapy, when she was so drained she could barely walk.

There were also professional lows, such as realising she would miss Tokyo 2020. “I really love the Olympics, so that was one was tough to take,” she told FIFA+.

Yet even in the darkest times, Stott maintained a positive outlook that was as remarkable as it was inspirational. What helped her during those moments, she explained, was that light at the end of the tunnel was never hard to find.

“2023 came to mind a lot,” she said. “You can’t get any better motivation than playing in a home World Cup.

“I just think it’s going to be huge. In New Zealand we haven’t managed to play a lot of games in the country, and rugby tends to take over. But we’re really hoping the country gets behind us. We’re all buzzing for it.”

Rebekah Stott of New Zealand celebrates scoring the first goal

Australia & New Zealand 2023 will be Stott’s third FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and she saw clear and unmistakable signs of progress from her first to her second. But it was that maiden appearance in Canada that yielded her favourite moment at the global finals bar none.

“It’s hard to look past my goal in 2015 against China,” she reflected with a smile. “That was just unreal. I remember when it went in thinking, ‘What?! This is just crazy!’ (mimics head exploding)

“It was so exciting and that is definitely my World Cup highlight so far. But France was amazing too and I definitely saw that the tournament took some steps forward in the four years since Canada – grass pitches being one massive example.

“I’m sure 2023 will live up to all the hype and take things on again. It’s going to be so fun. I can’t wait.”

As a less-than-prolific defender, Stott’s choice of that clinically dispatched strike against China PR will come as no surprise. But while it established her among a small and elite group of New Zealanders to score at a World Cup, she has her sights set on claiming a more significant slice of history.

After all, the 2-2 scoreline her goal helped secure is one of just three draws the Football Ferns have claimed at the global finals. The fact that, in 15 attempts, they have still to register a win is a statistic that stings, and spurs, everyone involved with the team.

“We need to get past that barrier,” she admitted. “That’s our goal and I think we’re in a very good position to do it [in 2023]. As a host nation, I think this is the best opportunity we’ve had.”

A natural optimist, Stott has also been pleased to find in new national coach Jitka Klimkova a similarly positive kindred spirit. The Czech told FIFA earlier this year of her desire to “change the mentality” among the Ferns, vowing that “whoever we are up against, New Zealand will be a team that plays to win.”

That, says Stott, has been music to the players’ ears. “Jitka’s going to be with us for a long time and, from what I’ve seen, we’re going to build a strong foundation and keep on improving,” said the big defender.

“She’s a great personality. She always brings the energy and it’s good to have her leading us. She brings a really good positive vibe to the team.”

As Stott seeks to return to peak fitness and force her way into Klimkova’s starting XI, she has another, more immediate target in her sights. With 15 months having now passed since she was forced to cut short a stint in England to return home for cancer treatment, the 28-year-old feels ready to broaden her horizons once again.

“Going abroad again is definitely on my radar,” she explained. “My goal is to head back to Europe in July and I’ve got my agent looking at that right now.

“I really enjoyed my time in Brighton and also loved my time in Germany, Norway and the US, so I’m excited to get back into that again. I want to get back to the life that I had.” Read part one of Stott’s interview, in which she discusses her battle with cancer and ongoing efforts to raise awareness.