Staging the Women’s World Cup will “wake up” New Zealand’s passion for football, the co-hosts’ coach Jitka Klimkova said on Wednesday’s eve of the tournament.
Football remains well behind rugby, cricket and other sports in popularity in New Zealand, which is jointly hosting the World Cup with Australia.
New Zealand have never won a Women’s World Cup game in 15 attempts, but they hope to change that when they face the 1995 champions Norway in the first game of the tournament on Thursday in Auckland.
“It is an opportunity for this country to not just be a rugby country but wake up their love for football,” said their Czech coach Klimkova.
Taking up the theme, captain Ali Riley added: “Hopefully this time we will achieve our goal of winning a World Cup game and doing that at home, and that will make it my greatest game of my career.
“This feels like an opportunity with the sporting culture, inspiring young people.”
After facing Norway at the 50,000-capacity Eden Park — better known for hosting the All Blacks rugby team — New Zealand face minnows the Philippines and Switzerland in Group A.
New Zealand are ranked 26th in the world and have won just once in their last 11 matches, but Klimkova is backing them to shine in front of their own fans.
“The hard work and preparation brought us to where we are now,” she said.
“At this stage the preparation is done and now it is time to shine, and I really believe these players will shine.”
Norway have fallen away since triumphing in 1995.
They were thumped 8-0 in the group stage by hosts and eventual champions England at the 2022 Euros.
Their Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen said the World Cup was a chance to redeem themselves and a fresh start.
“It is a year ago, a long season behind us,” she said, casting her mind back to their Euro flop.
“I think everybody has had time to focus on their club while working on stuff with the new coaching team, so everything feels very different, nothing to compare with how we left the tournament last year.
“It is a clean slate, we have a possibility to start afresh and to get going again.
“That is the beauty of football — there is always a new chance, and now we have it again.”
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