Football Ferns off to Europe in April after World Cup draw leads to change of plan

The Football Ferns are set to play two friendlies in Europe in April as part of their preparations for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil.

It was originally envisioned New Zealand’s national women’s football team would play entirely at home in 2023 in the lead-up to the tournament in July and August, where they will have matches in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.

But after they were stuck with two European opponents – Norway and Switzerland – in group A when the draw was made at Auckland’s Aotea Center at the end of Octoberit was decided they needed to also play against European teams before hand.

The distance between Europe and New Zealand makes attracting such teams for home fixtures a difficult proposition. No European women’s team has ever played in New Zealand – though that will change in February – and the last European men’s team to do so was England in 1991, as part of NZ Football’s centenary celebrations.

The opponents for April’s matches have been locked in, but are yet to be announced. All coach Jitka Klimková would say is that one team has a similar Fifa ranking to the Ferns, who slipped to 24th in the latest update – as low as they as have ever been – and that the other has a lower one.

First up for the Ferns in 2023 will be a pair of matches against the United States in Wellington and Auckland later this month, where they will be without a host of regular starters, as they have been scheduled outside the windows where clubs must release players.

A full-strength squad will then assemble in February to play three matches in the space of seven days – one in Hamilton against Portugal, who will be in New Zealand to take part in a playoff for one of the last three places on offer at the World Cup, etc two in Hamilton and Auckland against Argentina.

Next will come the April matches, which will be the last chance for players to impress Klimková in match situations as they vie for selection in the final squad of 23 to play in a home World Cup.

A number of players’ club seasons will end between early April and late May and while they will all be given two weeks off once those commitments are over, there is set to be a training camp running in Auckland in May and June as preparations ramp up , with players coming in on a rolling basis.

The deadline to finalize World Cup squads is typically two weeks before the opening match, which would be July 6 in 2023.

The Football Ferns are set to play two matches in Europe in April as part of their preparations for the Fifa Women's World Cup.


The Football Ferns are set to play two matches in Europe in April as part of their preparations for the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Klimková said she would likely wait as long as possible before finalizing her selection, with midfielder Annalie Longo the one Fern facing a real race against time at present, as she recovers from a serious knee injury suffered in September.

The Ferns are set to complete their preparations for the World Cup with two friendlies in New Zealand in early July, though one of them is set to be played behind closed doors and may not be a cap-earning fixture.

They will then begin their World Cup campaign by playing Norway at Eden Park on July 20, then head to Wellington to play the Philippines at Sky Stadium on July 25, before completing their group stage fixtures against Switzerland at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on July 30 .

They will be favorites to beat the world No 53 Philippines, having done so in Los Angeles last September, but they will likely need to also beat either No 13 Norway or No 21 Switzerland to advance to the round of 16.

The Ferns have played 15 group stage matches across five World Cups, including each of the last four, but are yet to register a win, with three draws, against Mexico in 2011 and Canada and the Netherlands in 2015 their best results.

Football Ferns’ 2023 schedule

Wednesday, January 18, 4pm: vUnited States; Sky Stadium, Wellington

Saturday, January 21, 4pm: vUnited States; Eden Park, Auckland

Friday, February 17, 7pm: v Portugal; FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton

Monday, February 20, 7pm: v Argentina; FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton

Thursday, February 23, 7pm: v Argentina; North Harbor Stadium, Auckland

April 3 – April 11: Two friends in Europe

July 10 – July 18: Two friends in New Zealand (one behind closed doors)

Thursday, July 20, 7pm: v Norway; Eden Park, Auckland (Fifa Women’s World Cup)

Tuesday, July 25, 5.30pm: v Philippines; Sky Stadium, Wellington (Fifa Women’s World Cup)

Sunday, July 30, 7pm: v Switzerland; Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin (Fifa Women’s World Cup)

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