Tuesday 04 August 2020, 01:54

Stott: I never thought a home World Cup would happen in my lifetime

  • Rebekah Stott is set to be a central figure for hosts New Zealand in 2023

  • Defender grew up in both New Zealand and Australia

  • Football Ferns chasing first-ever qualification from the group stage

Role models were so inaccessible for New Zealand defender Rebekah Stott during her childhood that she dreamed of playing international football for USA or China. Progress has been significant since Stott's formative years early this century, but the change for local youngsters when Australia and New Zealand host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ could be truly transformative.

News of the two nation’s successful bid in late June provided an incredible boost for so many members of the football fraternity Down Under. But few have such a unique perspective as Stott.

Born in New Zealand, the 27-year-old spent her childhood living in both countries and represented Australia at youth level, before enjoying a highly fruitful career for the Football Ferns at two Women’s World Cups and two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments. Little wonder Stott was utilised as a bid ambassador.

“It is so special, I can’t wait,” Stott told FIFA.com about 2023. “I have a lot of love for both countries. I have a lot of friends in the Australian team, and obviously I love my Kiwi girls.

“It is a long way away, but we are so excited, I can’t wait for it. It is not the kind of thing I thought would happen in my lifetime.”

New Zealand player Rebekah Stott in front of the Sydney Opera House

Stott predicts that 2023 will be a roaring success, pointing to the well-received 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand as a strong marker.

“New Zealanders love sport,” says Stott, who hails from the beachside town of Papamoa, some 200 kilometres from Auckland. “Football isn’t the biggest sport, but it can definitely grow from this. Kiwis just love getting out there to watch no matter what the sport is."

What kind of benefits will success have for the game locally? “It would grow the game so much,” Stott says. “The exposure it would bring the game would be incredible.

“Getting everybody in the country on board and showing young girls that it is a job, and something they can aspire to be. I’m hoping we can inspire a lot of girls and boys. I didn’t really have that growing up [as a young girl] and I actually wanted to play for US or China because they were the best teams at the time.”

The versatile defender is an unflashy but hugely reliable presence in New Zealand's backline and has been a squad regular for the best part of a decade now. In that time, the Football Ferns came within a goal of maiden knockout stage progression at a Women’s World Cup at Canada 2015. At exactly the same time back home, the nation’s U-20 men’s side progressed from their group on home soil.

Stott is unequivocal that is a key goal for the women in 2023. And with wily veteran coach Tom Sermanni at the helm, and a host of golden generation players looking at a likely swansong – Ali Riley and Abby Erceg to name just a couple – it is an objective that is eminently achievable.

Disrupted preparations for France 2019 potentially hindered the Kiwis’ dreams of building on Canada 2015, but there is cause for optimism in the countdown to 2023.

“[Tom Sermanni] has created the best possible environment for us to perform at our best on the field,” said Stott. “That will just keep getting better and growing the longer we are together as a team. He has so much experience and he brings that to the squad, so it is really good to have him.

“Our younger girls and guys have done it (reached the knockout stages) at youth World Cups. We have never done it at a senior World Cup, and to do it on home soil would be amazing, so that is definitely a goal of ours.”