No sooner does one tour end than the planning for the next one begins. The Football Ferns played their last game at the Cup of Nations last Wednesday and they don’t play the first of two games against Norway (played in Spain, which is useful for our European based players) until April 5 but just six days after the loss to Korea and three weeks out from the Norway games here we go with a new squad and… it’s a lot like the last squad.
Which means there’s not a huge amount of sense in going through all the positions and the ramifications like I usually do because nothing has really changed. Instead I’ll try look at this more with a focus on the World Cup squad which these players are all scrapping for. The Norway games will see another 23-woman squad amassing, same size as the World Cup lot is gonna be. Chances are the WC selection is going to look extremely like these last two squads, with just a couple spots still up for grabs. I’ll get into the likelihood of selection soon, first let’s take a peek at the squad itself…
Righto, so just the two changes. Anna Leat drops out for Nadia Olla and Steph Skilton drops out for Olivia Chance. Olla has been involved in squads recently, going to the Nations Cup when Anna Leat was unavailable and when it comes to any goalkeeper situation it’s worth mentioning that Erin Nayler is and will remain the number one through the World Cup and beyond. She’s at the peak of her powers, having a brilliant season in France, and with Leat as her toughest competition it’s still a few years until we reach that point where it’s a genuine debate. So we’re only talking about backups here.
Tom Sermanni’s words in the press release went like this…
“Anna has had a huge 12 months for a young woman. She has attended two age group World Cups and has had a lot of football. It is great to bring in Nadia into the squad.”
I mean, that’s not exactly saying much, is it Tommy? Footballer played lots of football and is young. Great to pick someone else. Cool… so is she just being rested? Presumably. At this stage I’d guess that Leat is the current backup to Nayler and my suspicion is she probably has some legit reason for being unavailable. She’s off to uni in the States soon so maybe she needs some time to work on the ol’ academic grades, dunno. I’d suggest that Olla and Vic Esson are competing for the third GK spot and that Esson remains the frontrunner for that one – she’s about to start up her club season along with Rebekah Stott later this month with Avaldsnses IL in… well, funnily enough in Norway. They play Kirsty Yallop’s Klepp in the opening game.
As for Olivia Chance, this is pretty huge for her as it’s a major step in her recovery from an ACL injury suffered last year. That bung knee kept her out of the last three Ferns squads and she’s only in the last month or so gotten back to full training with Everton, still yet to take the field in any competitive games as of her selection here. Chancey was a full on lock for the squad a year ago. She was in the middle of a breakout season with Everton and she’d emerged as a valuable figure in the midfield for the Ferns, starting in both games against Thailand and both games against Scotland. Then injury struck and now here we are.
That she’s been picked now suggests she’s close to returning to the field for Everton, although we sorta already assumed that, and hopefully she’ll achieve that milestone in between now and the Norway games. Having missed so much time, it’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things so maximum football between now and the World Cup is essential. She may play against Norway or she may not but this will be Tom Sermanni’s first chance to get a look at her in training camp which is essential all on its own. Chance is the first of three players currently struck down with knee injuries to return to football (she was also the first of the trio to get injured) with Hannah Wilkinson and Amber Hearn still racing against the clock to be ready.
Every player in the CON squad took the field at some stage except for the two reserve goalkeepers, Anna Leat and Vic Esson. Aimee Phillips, Daisy Cleverley, Steph Skilton, and CJ Bott were only used off the bench. Skilton, Anna Green, and Sarah Morton each only featured in one game. Naturally then that last three were the ones most in danger of missing out to accommodate Olivia Chance. And given that Skilton is a striker converted to a defender who has come off the bench to play midfield for Sermanni… she’s the most vulnerable. Anna Green is a versatile and experienced defender. Morton might be under more pressure, as you may only need one of her and CJ Bott and CJ Bott is ahead in the depth chart, although Morton has had a few impressive cameos in recent games. Depends on who’s putting the squeeze on from outside the squad. Let’s have a think about that then.
Not coincidentally, these are the eleven players who were named to start against Australia. Isn’t much more needs to be said on any of them and there’s a good chance that this is our top current XI. Wilkinson or Hearn might chellenge Gregorius if they’re fit. A couple others might push their cases over the next couple months and there’s always the chance, knock on wood, of further injuries between now and then. The other thing is if Ria Percival plays right back then somebody has to miss out and Meikayla Moore might drop to the bench for an extra attacker, depending on what shape we’re playing. Hence I’ve got them pretty much in order of importance here, top to bottom. Note that the oldest two players there are 31 years old and that seven of them are aged between 22 and 27. In other words: an entire starting team of players in the primes of their careers.
This lot I’d all expect to be there as well, though I don’t wanna get too certain about anything at this stage so I’m leaving that element of doubt in there. But each of these players has done enough to earn their place. Bott has emerged as a favourite impact sub (and if she can score another couple goals like that one then away we go), she might even get a chance to challenge for starting RB if Percy plays midfield. Anna Green is the backup left back and can play in the middle of defence. Katie Duncan is likewise a very experienced option to come in if we’re missing a defensive midfielder. She did enough in the Cup of Nations to show her comeback’s well on track.
Goalies we’ve already discussed. Olivia Chance same story, if she’s fit and close enough to the level she was at before her injury then no doubt about it. The timing of her injury has at least given her just enough time to get ready for the tournament. Paige Satchell got some decent footy at the Cup of Nations and her raw pace seems to have put her ahead of plenty of the other attacking options, while Katie Rood had an excellent Nations Cup and scored again at the Cup of Nations. Four goals in her last five internationals is a fine argument to put forward. That brings us to 19 players with four more required.
And here are the rest of the players to have been selected in a Tom Sermanni squad so far. You can chuck in names from outside this lot if you want but I kinda doubt we see any more debutants until after the World Cup, to be honest. We’re just too far behind the usual schedule to still be expanding the playing pool at this stage and there isn’t enough time left for anyone to burst onto the club scene.
Hannah Wilkinson and Amber Hearn will be there if they can prove their fitness. Otherwise it’s guts to them… and guts to Tom Sermanni who’d be missing his traditionally two top strikers. At this stage it feels like Hearn is almost certain to miss out (but what do I know?) while Wilkie is unlikely but still a chance. So I’d suggest we’ve got two striker roles to fill and Aimee Phillips and Emma Kete are the two in pole position… although Kete looked rusty at the CON and Phillips didn’t get a massive amount of footy there so definitely don’t discount Emma Rolston who’s been a surprise omission from the last two squads after scoring a few goals at the Nations Cup. She did have an issue with shin splints or something after that tourney but she’s played for Duisburg since then.
Malia Steinmetz and Grace Jale were the two midfield maestras in the last U20 World Cup and if we didn’t have so many midfielders than they’d be right on in consideration. Both look absolutely sorted for pro deals one day – Steinmetz is currently playing in Aussie at state level while Jale trialled in Europe last year. Actually genuinely surprised that Steinmetz has not been seen in white since the Nations Cup as she’d been included in the previous six Ferns squads and could surely offer something off the bench. But with Daisy Cleverley, currently at college in the States, also in the mix and having been picked in the last two squads, it might be that the three are competing for one spot.
Nadia Olla gets in if one of the other goalkeepers drops out. Then we’ve got Liz Anton and Sarah Morton, the former probably on standby in case of a defensive injury while the latter is a good bet of making the squad as a backup fullback depending on the balance of things.
Norway should be a competitive opponent, somewhere closer to the South Korea level of footy based on the last three teams we’ve played. A team that we could get a result against on a good day but which we’ll be expected to lose to. A second seeded team in the group draw, albeit the lowest ranked of the second seeds. Not that the rankings mean a damn thing.
That Norwegian team is gonna be stacked with players from top Euro clubs too. Captain Maren Mjelde plays for Chelsea with Ali Riley, same as fellow defender Maria Thorisdottir. Caroline Graham Hansen is at Wolfsburg. Kristine Minde and Frida Leonhardsen Maanum at Linkopings in Sweden, striker Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland scoring goals for Rosengard also in Sweden (another mate of Ali Riley’s).
And of course they have the official World’s Best Player in Ada Hegerberg winner of the Ballon D’or… but she doesn’t play international football after falling out with the national body in protest of the treatment of the women’s team. That still hasn’t been sorted and the coach has ruled since her out of contention. Which is a massive bummer for the World Cup but a handy boost for the Football Ferns’ preparation for it.
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