With all the intense effort and attitude that it takes even just to get yourself in contention to be picked for a World Cup, the last thing you wanna see is a player having their dream shattered three days out from the start of the tournament thanks to injury. Every World Cup there are always a handful of players for whom it just wasn’t to be. Injuries are a part of sport and while you can always reduce the risk, you can’t eliminate the risk. Hannah Wilkinson and Olivia Chance have done incredibly to be back in this squad after suffering ACL injuries last year. Amber Hearn wasn’t as lucky as she failed to recover in time.
But at least she had months to adjust to that. Meikayla Moore was poised to be a starter at this World Cup, having been an unused 19 year old sub in 2015, only to have that reality shattered so close to the start of it all. Devastating. Just horrible. Moore has been on a rapid rise the last few years. When Abby Erceg was unavailable it was Moore who stepped it up to fill her boots and that led into a leap over to the Bundesliga where she was an immediate impact player in defence for FC Köln and when they were relegated she snapped up a deal with MSV Duisburg where she played 20 times in the league last season. Filling in at right back and even a little central midfield to go with her preferred centre back role. Rising to the occasion every time, the sign of a big time player. She would have been an important force for the Ferns at this World Cup.
First off you’ve gotta say what an incredible and resilient attitude she’s had to it all. The immediate shock and horror probably played out in private but from the moment she announced the injury online she recalibrated into a role of complete support and positivity. These things do happen, unfortunately. We’re all dealt cruel blows along the way. Being able to take things as they come and respond with optimism, channelling that disappointment into motivation, is all you can really ask. Keeping on the lemons to lemonade theme this could be a galvanising moment for the rest of the Ferns to use Moore’s injury as inspiration.
But damn she’ll be hard to replace. Moore came off the bench against Wales, one of just three games since the last Olympics that she hasn’t started and she’s featured in some part in 23 of the last 24 internationals. There was already a question here about how the defence would be shaped with Rebekah Stott and Abby Erceg also beyond doubt for selection but the trio of them would all have been there in one way or another, whether in a back three or with Stott (or maybe Moore) at right back.
This gets into a wider perspective because lately Tom Sermanni has alternated between a back four and a back five seemingly without a whole lot of pattern to it. Like, they’ve tried each against top teams. Tried each against teams they expected to get results against. But the product of that is now they’re pretty well adept at either going into this tournament, which offers some lovely flexibility.
If the plan is a back four then Moore’s injury does at least clear up a headache about who misses out and also keeps CJ Bott in the running at fullback. If the plan is a back three then, well, this is what you develop that squad depth for. Anna Green has gotten solid minutes lately at left-centre back within that trio. She’ll slide right on into that back three which allows Abby Erceg to play through the middle (Moore had otherwise been doing that role, with Erceg on the left) – which doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to AE. Through the middle of the three she’s more of a sweeper where her ability to read the game is in focus. On the left she’s in a more aggressive role where her ability in the challenge (on the ground and in the air) is in focus. No dramas either way as far as she’s concerned – benefits of having one of the world’s top defenders in the squad.
In that light, if an injury had to happen then at least it happened in a position where we’ve got other influential players. This squad is only just deep enough to handle any injuries at all but had we lost Erin Nayler, Ria Percival, or maybe even Rosie White then it would have been a huge blow to our expectations. As it is, stink though this situation happens to be, it’s a blow but it’s not one that should cause us to alter our targets.
Nicole Stratford has been called into the squad to replace Moore, almost secretly. All the chat has been about Moore’s injury with nothing much about the uncapped replacement that’s been called up. Nicole Stratford has been taking care of business for Northern in the national league for several years and going back a decade she was a member of the U20 World Cup squad that went to Chile in 2008 alongside the likes of Abby Erceg, Anna Green, Ria Percival, Annalie Longo, Betsy Hassett, Katie Duncan, Vic Esson, and a 15 year old Rosie White. She’ll have played with a few others for Northern too.
But safe to say that this was a selection from way out of left field. There were quite a few players unlucky not to make this squad in the first place, the likes of Katie Rood, Emma Rolston, Malia Steinmetz, Aimee Phillips, etc. Except those are all attacking players. With such a sudden injury, finding a sudden replacement might not have been easy if Sermanni was looking for a like for like deal. And he didn’t have to. This squad does look a tad shallow in those attacking areas and one of those others could’ve had a role to play… which Stratford probably won’t, to be fair. If there’s another CB injury then Steph Skilton, Katie Duncan, or Katie Bowen are all also options.
The only defender who has played for the Ferns in the last two years who wasn’t in this squad already was Liz Anton. Maybe they called her first and she was unavailable. Tom Sermanni’s not been against the odd out of the box call up though, with Emma Kete and Katie Duncan coming out of retirement to make this squad. Bit different without international experience… but okay.
This all leads into the Netherlands game and it offers one more slice of curiosity to Tommy Shades’ selection. Most of it is sorted. Erin Nayler in goal. Ali Riley at LB (or poooossibly left wing). Erceg and Stott will start. Either Green or Bott or maybe both depending on the formation. Ria Percival and Katie Bowen look likely to be the midfield unless one plays at RB. Annalie Longo and Betsy Hassett are competing for one attacking mid spot with Hassett slightly out in front. Rosie White and Sarah Gregorius should be the strikers. By the way, one advantage of having Greenie in there is that her left foot is a set piece weapon – all our other takers (Percy, Bowen, Hassett, etc.) are right-footers.
That’s all cool, it’s what we’ve been preparing for. Now that preparation is complete and this team is as ready as it’s gonna get. There are certain things that they’ll have to take care of regardless of their opposition. They have to be clinical in front of goal because chances are hard to come by at these tournaments. They need to be accurate with their passing and creative with their movements – this World Cup has gone hundies on the VAR offsides so far. Compact in defence. Industrious in midfield. Erin Nayler will need to be great, Abby Erceg too. All these things have been glimpsed in their recent games to certain degrees so now just gotta tie it all together because that first ever World Cup win, that first ever World Cup knockout game, is there for the taking if they do.
The Netherlands are bloody good though. They’re the European champs from 2017 and although that was a bit of a shocker, aided by home field advantage, this Dutch team has some absolutely immense talent, with most of it in attack. Lieke Martens was the world player of the year in 2017. Vivianne Miedema scored buckets for Arsenal this season and her club teammate Daniëlle van de Donk has all the skill in the world. Shanice van de Sanden is a creative force from the wing for the Champions League dynasty of Lyon and she’s so fast she’d even give Paige Satchell a race.
This is only Netherlands’ second World Cup and they beat us 1-0 at the last one but that probably won’t be a massive indication of what to expect. Netherlands have come on in leaps since then. New Zealand have improved too but we’re still looking at the champions of Europe versus the champions of Oceania here. Expect to see the Dutch playing quick and knocking the ball around. They’ll press from the top and they’ll stretch the defence with their wingers, probably with a front three of Martens, Miedema, and van de Sanden.
Honestly, this one could be ruthless. This team’s no better than the English side we beat ten days ago but that English team played in a way that suited the Footy Ferns. They knocked in crosses and played from in front of our defence. Our lasses will stay organised and win headers all day if you ask them to and England did… bingo. However the Dutch are gonna bring a much more frantic pace which will be hard to nullify. We’ve got world class defenders but that midfield is gonna need to be top notch to give them a chance to catch their breath every now and again.
The flipside is that the Netherlands might be a little vulnerable at the back if their midfield is cancelled out, particularly from set pieces which suits the Ferns perfectly. A lot will depend on how well we can slow things down and control the pace, while the defensive miscommunications at the back that were there against England in the early stages simply cannot happen. We have to start strong. Mistakes will be punished by this side and the longer we can keep things scoreless the better our prospects.
Remember, a draw here would be a great result. Canada and Cameroon played this morning and while Canada won, as expected, they didn’t look completely fluent on the way to a 1-0 win (scoring from a corner kick just before the half). Cameroon were pretty solid which proves once again that there will be no easy games here, but Netherlands are on a level above and this is our toughest test. A point from this game would have us in an incredible position to at least get third in the group if we can beat Cameroon (or even Canada, you never know) later on – but even if we lose to the Dutch it’s important not to get thrashed because goal difference could be crucial with those third-placed classifications.
And that’s where we’re at. I could go on for another couple thousand words if you want but there’s no point in that. Whatever happens now depends on those ninety minutes at Stade Oceane in Le Havre. All the preparation’s been done. All the speculation’s been spoken. All the hype is boiling over. The football is all that matters now and history is there for the making.
If you rate the Ferns coverage on TNC then feel free to drop a cheeky tip on our Patreon in support
Also smash and ad whenever you read something decent and spread the word however you can
Keep cool but care