‘They were playing with a high degree of confidence,’ Sermanni said. ‘That’s probably an effect of having really good preparation this year. They were at a good level of match fitness. They’re also benefiting from competing at regular international events and having a significant number of players playing in highly competitive leagues overseas.’
So who should we watch out for?
‘There are a few you’ll recognise from the Westfield W-League,’ he said, ‘including Emma Kete, who’s always a threat with her pace and dribbling skills. Abby Erceg was key to Adelaide United’s improvement this season and is integral to New Zealand’s performance too.’
Then, he said, there are the players honing their skills overseas: ‘There are quite possibly more of their players currently playing overseas than in New Zealand, with at least five or six of them, including Ria Percival, Rebecca Smith, Katie Hoyle, Anna Green, Sarah Gregorius, and Amber Hearne playing in Germany alone.’
Plus they have ‘our Stotty’, Sermanni said, referring to Melbourne Victory standout Rebekah Stott, who we like to claim, but who New Zealand claims too: ‘A fantastic defender, she’s going to make our strikers work hard.’
And what about the Westfield Matildas’ prep?
‘I think we’ve got a very good squad together,’ Sermanni said. ‘The unknown factors for us are that we haven’t played an international game for some time and that this group of players haven’t really played in a competitive game with each other. That, along with the fact that we haven’t had a lot of preparation time, makes these matches tricky.’
‘But,’ he said, ‘that’s what happens in football and you’ve just got to go with it. I’m confident that any time an Australian team takes the pitch you know you’re going to get a competitive spirit (and never more so than when facing New Zealand).’
‘We’ve got a young team,’ he said, ‘but we’ve also had a fairly young team for a while (including at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup) that’s proved itself well. We’ve got a good core experienced players there too, who’ve also experienced success at international level.’
Sounds like a successful spying/scouting trip/holiday. Anything else we should know?
Sermanni and Prior ‘contributed to the New Zealand economy’. The two even bought themselves tickets to the match, which is, Sermanni says, ‘a first for a long time’ (they normally organise entry ahead of time with the member organisation).
They were also, he said ‘under severe pressure’ to leave New Zealand early on the Monday morning. ‘It was Spencer’s 18th wedding anniversary and he had to be back in the country. We left the hotel at 5.30am New Zealand time [read: 2.30am AEST]. Never let it be said we were on holiday. That’s some serious commitment to the cause.’