Ali Riley Column: It’s Time for the Biggest Game of My Ferns Career – We’re Ready to Go

New Zealand captain Ali Riley is a columnist for 90min at the Women’s World Cup in France this summer, as the Football Ferns look to secure the country’s first World Cup win.

Well, that wasn’t ideal. 

Canada were really good, they showed why they’re fifth in the world, and I don’t think they showed that against Cameroon. We have to give them a lot of credit, but at the same time we didn’t perform as well as we did against the Netherlands. We weren’t as aggressive, it felt a little bit flat out there and showed how a team who are that good can take advantage.

It’s always difficult to not take a result hard when you’ve got high expectations and you really believe in your team. We’ve wanted to make history every match, and we believe that we can win that first game. 

We were all really disappointed the day after the Canada game and exhausted after a late night, so we were given the day off on Monday. Montpellier is beautiful, the sun’s shining, we’re right in the city, we celebrated another birthday and the refreshed energy yesterday at training was amazing. We had some team activities last night and we’re buzzing – another good training session today and I think we’re ready.

This next game is going to be very different, so we can’t dwell too much on Canada. We knew that there was a risk that it could come down to this third game, and we know it’s one we’re expected to win – even though Cameroon have been really solid in the tournament. 

This is the biggest game of my World Cup career. It’s this weird deja vu feeling to have the Netherlands and Canada in the group again, and Cameroon who we had to beat at the 2012 Olympics to go through to the quarter-finals. That game was the biggest in my championship tournament life so far, but the World Cup is the pinnacle event of women’s football, maybe women’s sport.

“The level is so much higher and I’m so glad that the media is taking notice”

They’re dangerous, they scored against the Netherlands, and it’s not going to be an easy game. After we beat England and Norway, we believed that we had a chance to pick something up against Canada and the Netherlands; but not much has changed now that we haven’t, except the pressure ramping up. 

To have this chance after three times of trying and failing, this is the biggest game for any of us. We talked yesterday about the maths we need to qualify, but you can get bogged down in all of that. We’ve collectively decided that we need to focus on our game first and win, and not think too much about the specifics. There’s so many numbers and different results, so it’s just all about putting in the preparation so we win the game. 

We knew Cameroon would be athletic and have some really good individuals, but their defence is so organised. Canada and the Netherlands couldn’t slice through them – they get back and get organised, sitting pretty low. I don’t know if they’ll do that against us because they also have to win to go through, so I think the game should open up a bit.

The level is so much higher all around the tournament, and I’m so glad that the media is taking notice. This is how it would be at a men’s World Cup, and that’s what we’ve been talking about and fighting for.

It’s great to watch the tournament and see the smaller teams making things difficult for the favourites. I’m really proud to be part of the game at this moment in time, because it’s so different. There’s still a couple of big blowouts, but that can’t take away from the fact that the sport has grown so much.

It’s so much more even, and these teams – where players aren’t playing at big, famous professional clubs – there’s been enough investment and hard work from the federation or the women themselves fighting to get noticed. Especially the goalkeepers, I’ve been so impressed with goalkeepers from Argentina, Chile through Jamaica. The individual skill of all the players has risen so much. 

Don’t get me wrong, you still see some disgusting comments on social media and there’s a percentage of people who don’t get it, but there’s a much larger percentage that get it than ever. 

Of course, we’ve got goals outside the matches too – we’re still 1,700 off getting Rosie to 10,000 Instagram followers! Hopefully she’ll score a couple of goals tomorrow and skyrocket. Maybe she’ll write her Instagram handle on her forehead, ‘​@RosieWh​ite, follow me‘. Perhaps in the future we’ll go out with our Instagram handles on the backs of our jerseys. We need help, we might get more sponsors!


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