By 90Min
May 29, 2019

New Zealand captain Ali Riley will be a columnist for 90min at the Women's World Cup in France this summer, as the Football Ferns look to secure the country's first World Cup win.

Less than two weeks until kickoff - I'm so excited. 

We've had an incredible build-up, and it's still ramping up now - England and Wales in the next week before we finally get out to France. 

We were all just together for two weeks and we got a little bit of a break, now we're back together again and the excitement is building more and more. Being in Europe, and the game against England on Saturday, it's all coming in for an incredible atmosphere that will get us even more prepared for our first game in France.

Obviously we had a really tough time with our coach and the Federation over the past year, but getting Tom Sermanni on board, finding ourselves and really, really working on our culture again, has been incredible.

After a pretty tough year where we didn't get to play that much, the fixtures that he set up for us leading into this World Cup have been insane. Not just the game coming up against England, but we just had the US, Mexico and Norway, and then we have Wales after England. The excitement's building all the time. 

To be able to represent New Zealand on the world stage and be a part of the growth of the women's game is the most amazing feeling. This is the best time to be playing women's football.

There's more media attention on women's sport and on women in general - thank God, finally! We just played in the US, and the support of the women's team there is unbelievable. They've set the bar, and England is a close second, even if it's tough competing with the men's game anywhere in Europe.

Seeing the support here really gives us hope. We're from a very, very tiny country, competing with some big national sports and this is another opportunity to get some media attention. 


I guess I really just hope that, when the tournament finishes (whenever that may be for us!) that we've done enough to inspire all the little girls back home to want to pick up a ball, that the girls are heading off to amazing professional teams and giving little girls back home the fuel that they can dream about leaving home and playing at clubs all over the world.

Everything has been building towards this tournament, and I think a lot of us probably won't play together for many more years after this, so this could be the last time that this really, really special group of players is together.

It's not all about growing the game though. It's about...well, the games. No senior New Zealand team has won a game at a World Cup - our number one goal is to change that. No questions, no ifs, no buts. 

We have a pretty challenging group and - even more interesting - two opponents we had in the last World Cup. Seeing how the Netherlands did in the Euros, they'll be confident in their ability to manage a tournament. That team we saw four years ago wasn't the same Netherlands team that we saw at the Euros. 

We're trying not to focus too much on any individual match - obviously the pressure's on for the Cameroon game, and Canada are a really good team too.   

Once you get out of the group, anything can happen. We had a great result against Norway, we beat Mexico and we got pretty battered by the US, so Saturday's going to be a fun challenge - we have a confidence building, but we've also seen where we really need to improve some areas.

Everyone comes in wanting to win the World Cup, but with the year we've gone through, what has happened in our Federation over the past four years, to win a game, to get out of the group, would be an incredible achievement for the sport, for our team, for football in New Zealand, for women's sport and, for me, it would be insane.

Being the captain is the greatest honour I can imagine in my whole career. It's bigger than any accolades or prizes, because this team means everything to me and makes me so proud.

That being said, I'm there to do the job. This is the fourth time around, we've tried three times and haven't been able to win a game, so I want to leave France knowing that I gave everything, and really played bravely and fiercely, not afraid of the pressure, not afraid to fail, but just to play my best football.

That's the way a lot of the girls are feeling, especially those of us that have been together since 2006 at the Under-20 World Cup. Everything has been building towards this tournament, and I think a lot of us probably won't play together for many more years after this, so this could be the last time that this really, really special group of players is together. 

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