The Football Ferns squad aiming to secure a spot at the Olympic Games in Rio later this year was named on Thursday for the two-match OFC Womens Olympic playoff later this month.
After touring with the New Zealand side for the first time late last year against Brazil, the trio of Kate Loye, Aimee Phillips and Grace Jale have been retained for the playoff while former U-17 and U-20 international representative goalkeeper Victoria Esson has been added to the squad to face Papua New Guinea.
The playoff begins with the first leg in Lae, Papua New Guinea on January 23 (5pm, NZ time) before the return leg at Aucklands QBE Stadium on January 26 at 7.30pm. The second leg of the series will be shown LIVE on SKY Sport.
Football Ferns coach Tony Readings said the new recruits two of whom made their international debuts against Brazil have bolstered his options ahead of another important year in the evolution of the New Zealand side.
We are happy with depth of players we now have to choose from, Readings said. In addition to the well-established senior players we have, some exciting younger players are now putting their hands up for selection. The decisions are becoming more difficult and this is exactly what we need to keep pushing the team forward and also to keep pushing players to work harder for their positions.
Readings said he will use the playoff as another opportunity to hone the teams work in the final third of the field while taking due account of their opponents.
In the Brazil series we changed some aspects of how we play with an emphasis on using our possession to create more goal scoring opportunities. We will continue with this work and also fine tuning all other aspects of our game to ultimately be a more complete team. The main goal of this series is obviously to qualify and this will be our primary focus. In addition to improving our own performance we will also be working towards nullifying the threats that Papua New Guinea will pose.
New Zealand have met Papua New Guinea twice before in the playoff for the OFC Olympic berth, winning 2-0 in Port Moresby in 2008 before taking an aggregate 15-0 victory over two legs in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympics where the Ferns reached the quarter-final stage for the first time.
In their most recent match-up, the Football Ferns were 3-0 winners over Papua New Guinea during qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Womens World Cup in Canada. If she plays in both legs of the playoff, fullback Ali Riley will reach 99 matches for her country.
Tickets for the Auckland match at QBE Stadium will be available at the gate. Adults $10, students and seniors $5 with U-16s FREE.
Football Ferns squad - OFC Womens Olympic Qualifiers 2016 January 2016 (Caps/Goals/Club)
Erin Nayler (33/0 Norwest Utd, NZL)
Victoria Esson (0/0 Ferrymead Bays FC, NZL)
Cushla Lichtwark (0/0 Upper Hutt City FC, NZL)
CJ Bott (2/0 Forrest Hill Milford Utd AFC, NZL)
Abby Erceg (capt 118/5 Western New York Flash, USA)
Ria Percival (108/11 USV Jena, GER)
Ali Riley (97/1 FC Rosengard, SWE)
Rebekah Stott (44/3 Melbourne City FC, AUS)
Katie Bowen (29/0 University of North Carolina, USA)
Katie Duncan (107/1 FC Zurich, SWT)
Betsy Hassett (83/8 Amazon Grimstad, NOR)
Grace Jale (0-0 Eastern Suburbs AFC, NZL)
Annalie Longo (83/6 Coastal Spirit FC, NZL)
Kate Loye (1/0 Claudelands Rovers, NZL)
Kirsty Yallop (92/12 Brisbane Roar, AUS)
Sarah Gregorius (71/24 AS Elfen Saitama, JPN)
Amber Hearn (104/46 USV Jena, GER)
Jasmine Pereira (12/0 Three Kings Utd, NZL)
Aimee Phillips (1/0 Forrest Hill Milford Utd AFC, NZL)
Rosie White (73/14 Liverpool FC, ENG)
Head coach: Tony Readings
Assistant coach: Aaron McFarland
Assistant coach: Daniel Robinson
Manager: Claire Hamilton
Performance Analyst: Gary Connell
Sports Scientist: Harriet Steele
Physiotherapist: Anna Muller
Doctor: Chris Hanna
Match 1 Papua New Guinea v New Zealand
Saturday 23 January, 2pm (Saturday 23 January, 5pm NZ time)
PNGFA Academy Pitch, Lae, Papua New Guinea
Match 2 New Zealand v Papua New Guinea
Tuesday 26 January, 7.30pm
QBE Stadium, Albany, Auckland
Tickets (available at the gate) - Adults: $10 - Students/Seniors: $5 - U-16: FREE
Broadcast: Match 2 LIVE on SKY SportRio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Abby Erceg Katie Duncan Annalie Longo Ria Percival Ali Riley Rosie White Kirsty Yallop Betsy Hassett Amber Hearn Erin Nayler Katie Bowen Sarah Gregorius Rebekah Stott Football