Football Ferns Tony Readings believes his team is ready to go to another level as they complete their preparation for the Rio Olympic Games.
The Ferns, who are No 16 on the FIFA World Rankings, will get a good benchmark of where they are at when they take on the World No 5 Australian Matildas this afternoon in the first of two international friendlies.
There is no lack of motivation for the Ferns to get a result against the old foe. Popular defender Ali Riley is expected to play her 100th game, Hannah Wilkinson is back in the squad after a long injury layoff and all of the squad know they are fighting for their place in the 18-strong squad for Rio. Readings said there has been a noticeable climb in intensity this week in training.
“There has definitely been another gear found this week, when it is getting closer to the occasion [of the Rio Olympics] there is massive competition within the squad and in the starting XI and people are trying to push for that,” he said. “We have been building for a long time since the last Olympics to peak at this event. We feel like it is all coming together now and we know that when we are at our best we can beat the best teams in the world.”
That is the challenge ahead of them today when they look to upset a quality Australian side at Morshead Park in Ballarat at 5pm (NZ time). Readings said they know the Australian team well because they have played them a lot and they are well aware of their strengths.
“They have a real will to win,” he said. “They don’t like losing and they will fight to the bitter end and they are physical. So that is the backbone of the way they play, but they also play a good style of football. They have lots of very good attacking players. We know that they are not going to be easy to break down because they don’t like conceding but they also have a lot of strength on attack so we need to be on our toes.”
The challenge that Australia poses replicates the teams the Ferns will face at the Rio Olympics where they will play the United States, France and Colombia.
“We are going to learn a lot but we want to win the game and learn that way.”
The Ferns learned a huge amount from their last international friendly where they lost 2-0 to the Netherlands.
“We played OK but we know that we are capable of much more,” he said.
Readings pinpointed the way they defended against the Dutch and a lack of variety and threat going forward were the big work-ons to come from that fixture. The focus of the past four or five days has been on making sure they are resolute at the back and going forward they want to be a lot more threatening and more potent.
“When you play a team who is ranked fifth in the world and then we have teams who are highly ranked in our group at the Olympics you are going to have to work really hard to create chances and when you do get them you have to be ruthless.”
Readings has been on a journey with this Ferns team for a long time. He was there to see Katie Duncan, Abby Erceg, Amber Hearn and Ria Percival all play their 100th game for New Zealand and it will be special if Riley also achieves that milestone.
“I have been around for pretty much all of their caps so it is great for me personally to share the journey with these players and as a group to celebrate each other’s achievements,” he said.
“It is a really close knit group of players and when you have someone like Ali – she is the heart and soul of this team – and helps drive us forward. To be there to celebrate these moments is very special. No doubt Ali will take the game in her stride and I am sure like the rest of us she wants to get in a great performance. It will be a great occasion and it is really important that we do celebrate these sorts of things. It is a massive achievement to play for your country 100 times.
The Football Ferns games versus the Australian Matildas are live on SKY Sport.
Please find attached audio from an interview with Football Ferns coach Tony Readings
Australian Matildas v Football Ferns Coverage on SKY SPORT
Game 1: Saturday June 4 in Ballarat, 5pm LIVE SKY Sport 1 (Highlights June 4, 9:30pm SKY Sport 4)
Game 2: Tuesday June 7 in Melbourne, 7pm LIVE SKY Sport 1 (Highlights June 7, 10:30pm SKY Sport 2)