Erceg looks to end year on high

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg. Photo by Photosport

Football Ferns skipper Abby Erceg is happy to be home in the sun and is looking forward to leading a young New Zealand A team against Thailand in two international friendlies beginning this week.

Erceg, who made history in October when she led the Western New York Flash to victory in the NWSL Championship and became the first New Zealander to achieve that feat, is back home for the first time in 12 months and happy to reunite with some of her Ferns team-mates for the first time since the Rio Olympic Games. Ali Riley also won the NWSL but not as captain.

The inspirational skipper, who has played 130 internationals for New Zealand since making her debut back in 2006, is joined by other overseas based players Anna Green and Rosie White in a New Zealand A team that is a mixture of youth and experience as the team looks to begin building for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France.

“I really wanted to get back and show face at home,” said Erceg. “We don’t get too many games at home so it was a good opportunity to get home and also for the country to see what we have been doing for the past four years.”

Listen to audio from an interview with Football Ferns skipper Abby Erceg 

The New Zealand A team have completed two trainings already this week in Auckland and Erceg said it was exciting to see the next generation of Ferns coming through. This tour is a chance for the team to reassess their goals and it is good to do that with the U-17s and U-20s who are pressing hard for places in the senior team.

“If we can get that next generation coming through that will be really positive for us and playing Thailand on the back of the Olympics is a good way to see where we are at,” she said.

Football Ferns coach Tony Readings said it was great to have Erceg home and she makes a noticeable difference to training sessions.

“We saw today that Abby helps lifts the standards of the whole group,” he said. “She is a real professional and her high standards lift the intensity of the whole group. We have a young squad but those three – Abby, Anna and Rosie –  are going to be leaders in this group. For the Football Ferns to be successful we need a greater depth of quality players to choose from and they need to show them leadership.”

Listen to audio from an interview with Football Ferns coach Tony Readings

Erceg said while Thailand will not present the same challenge as the leading teams from Asia like Japan or China, the World No 32 are very strong technically and not to be underestimated.

“If we give them enough time to show us what they have got I think they will hurt us. Going into these games we have to take them seriously,” she said.  “We have to learn how to win games against teams like Thailand because it will help us at World Cups and Olympics. I expect they will come out firing. They have a new coach and are developing as well so we need to be on our game.”

Erceg smiled when talking about lifting the NWSL Championship trophy in a match she called “one of the toughest games that she has ever had to play”.

Erceg, who came to Western New York from the Chicago Red Stars in an offseason trade, moved from centre back into the midfield at her new club and said doing twice as much running was hard work.

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg lifts the National Women's Soccer League trophy with her Western New York Flash team mates.

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg lifts the National Women’s Soccer League trophy with her Western New York Flash team mates.

The Kiwi skipper said once the team got through extra time and it went to penalties the team was pretty confident because they had been practising for months and had set plans. They won 3-2 for a historic victory.

“When our keeper [Sabrina D’Angelo] made the last save we totally lost it. We had been the underdogs all year so it was really special for our team to win and we celebrated well.”

Erceg is hoping for more of those moments with the Silver Fern on her chest. She has been playing international football since she was 16 years old and said it has taken a toll on her body and is taking it a year at a time with the long term goals of the 2019 FIFA World Cup and Tokyo Olympics still some time away. First things first and that is putting in a strong performance against Thailand.

“There is a lot of potential in this team and it will be good to see what we can do.”

Thailand begin their tour of New Zealand tomorrow night with a match against a New Zealand Development team on No 3 of QBE Stadium.

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NZ Development Team match v Thailand
When: Thursday 15 December 6pm kick off
Where: No. 3, QBE Stadium, Albany

New Zealand A v Thailand Fact Box
Game 1
When: Saturday 17 December 4:30pm
Where: Mt Smart Stadium
Ahead of the Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers in the A League

Game 2
When: Tuesday 20 December 5pm
Where: Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai

New Zealand A team to face Thailand:
Goalkeepers:
Victoria Esson, Anna Leat, Tessa Nicol
Defenders:
Anna Green, Meikayla Moore, Liz Anton, Ally Toailoa, Rebecca Lake, CJ Bott, Saskia Vosper, Abby Erceg ©
Midfielders:
Kate Loye, Nicole Mettam, Malia Steinmetz, Issy Coombes, Annalie Longo, Hannah Blake, Paige Satchell
Forwards:
Aimee Phillips, Martine Puketapu, Jasmine Pereira, Jane Barnett, Jacqui Hand, Rosie White, Stephanie Skilton, Katie Rood

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