Football Ferns coach wants veterans to stay with team

5:25 am on 10 August 2023
New Zealand's Hannah Wilkinson celebrates her goal during the Football Ferns win over Norway.

Football Fern Hannah Wilkinson could be back on the field for New Zealand next month. Photo: Photosport

The Football Ferns' World Cup is over but the next big global tournament is less than a year away.

After exiting the home World Cup at the group stage, the Football Ferns return to the pitch next month for two games in the international window as they look towards qualifing for the 2024 Olympic Games.

The review into their World Cup campaign, which kicked off with the first win for any senior New Zealand football side at a World Cup, will start this week and be concluded next week.

Coach Jitka Klimkova is contracted until the next World Cup in 2027 in a role she says she is proud of, but she expects the review with players, coaches and New Zealand Football to be very detailed.

Everyone involved in the Football Ferns' World Cup campaign took a couple of days off after their last game in Dunedin which ended their World Cup and now that Klimkova is back at work she is already looking at how the team can grow ahead of their upcoming challenges.

Qualifers for the Olympics are in February with the Games taking place in France in July.

The Football Ferns will play in September, sit out the October international window before playing twice at the end of November all with getting a spot at the Olympics in mind.

Klimkova wants her older World Cup squad members, like co-captains Ali Riley and Ria Percival, to stick around a little longer.

New Zealand's Football Ferns huddle after their World Cup game against Switzerland.

New Zealand's Football Ferns huddle after their World Cup game against Switzerland. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"I hope this World Cup is not their last tournament, when we were having individual discussions with the players everybody wants to push to Olympics at least.

"So I hope that still in that case and they will be still motivated to represent New Zealand at the Olympics, of course we need to qualify, and then if for the more experienced players it will be end of their career I think they can really be proud of what they've achieved."

Klimkova is not surprised at how close the World Cup has been with some underdog nations causing upsets.

Even after the Football Ferns were out of the tournament Klimkova still went to Eden Park to watch other games - something she admits she did with mixed emotions.

She has been impressed with Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa and makes special mention of Colombia who have progressed to their first Women's World Cup quarter-final to be played on Saturday.

"Colombia what they are achieving is incredible and it's awesome for the women's game. I'm so happy that our fans, the Kiwis or the Aussies, can see the beauty of women's football and having those competitive games here in New Zealand we can't wish for anything better."

However, the New Zealand coach is picking co-hosts Australia to lift the trophy for the first time on 20 August.

Australia's forward #20 Sam Kerr (C) celebrates with teammates their win at the end of the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group B football match between Canada and Australia at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, also known as AAMI Park, in Melbourne on July 31, 2023.

Australia's forward #20 Sam Kerr (C) celebrates with teammates their win at the end of the World Cup Group B football match against Canada. Photo: AFP

With 32 teams the 2023 FIFA World Cup is the biggest ever women's World Cup and Klimkova can see the potential for the next World Cup to be close too if different nation's federations continue to invest in women's football.

For New Zealand Football's part Klimkova wants to keep the momentum going for the Football Ferns with playing international games "very regularly" and at home.

Having seen how much playing on home soil means to her players Klimkova doesn't want the side to have another five year period without playing in New Zealand.

"Waiting five years, almost five years to be back that's not fair to them. So we will be pushing to organise more games here in New Zealand.

"But we just really need to play international games, we always want to play games against strong opposition as that is when we can learn the most."

Another change Klimkova wants to see before the 2027 World Cup extends beyond the top team.

"One of the other keys for us is to really start having regular programming for our youth national team is and that's something I remember as the under 17 coach or under 20 coach was missing.

"I think that's huge potential that we can open up and we can we will have this programming more regular and year round, that's something this country needs. It's not just prioritising the Football Ferns but really taking care of our youth teams and all of our youth development."

New Zealand's head coach Jitka Klimkova during Norway vs New Zealand at Eden Park.

Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova. Photo: Photosport

As for those players already part of the senior national set-up, Klimkova hopes they are part of some of the toughest club environments in the world over the coming seasons.

"I have always believed that where they are daily is the key for their improvement and development. So having them in Europe, having them in the States, having them in quality leagues [is important].

"I think this World Cup could really open the door for many of them and if they can get to the clubs when they will grow quicker I think that's another key for our bright future."

After an "intense" and lengthy build-up to the World Cup, the players will be back together very quickly for the two upcoming games against yet to be named opposition - and Klimkova can't wait.

"I believe that everybody needed that rest and recharge but let's go again. Let's go again. We saw how much potential we have and let's keep playing, let's keep growing. Let's keep learning and let's keep playing for New Zealand."