Goalkeeper Vic Esson – six months old when the Football Ferns last played in Christchurch 31 years ago – is “absolutely ecstatic’’ about the chance to bring the team home.
Esson and defender Meikayla Moore are two of the more prominent Christchurch-born members of the Football Ferns set to play in front of family and friends in two matches against South Korea on November 12 and 15.
The pair – who now play for rival Glasgow clubs – hoped the Christchurch fixtures might help Canterbury fans rebound from the disappointment of missing out on hosting games at the 2023 World Cup tournament to be played in New Zealand and Australia.
“I don’t think anything will quite make up for it, but it’s definitely a starting point,’’ Esson said on Wednesday.
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“It’s an opportunity for us to come home to play football and provide some exposure of high performance football in Canterbury.’’
The Korea games will the Football Ferns’ first in New Zealand for four years since a 3-1 loss to Japan in Wellington in June 2018.
“I think Christchurch deserves the games,’’ Esson said. “Obviously they have missed out on hosting the World Cup games, maybe they will get to be a training centre for the World Cup, but in terms of the World Cup games, they are unable to get one because of the after-effects of the earthquakes.
“So I think this is a good opportunity for us to be able to go home to Christchurch … We haven’t played there in our generation anyway, I know the last game was a long, long time ago.’’
Esson, who plays for Glasgow Rangers, was born in 1991 – the year the Ferns last played in Christchurch in a scoreless TransTasman Cup draw against Australia.
Moore, 26, has 57 caps since her debut almost a decade ago, but has never been able to represent her country in the city where she grew up.
“Being from Christchurch, and having not played there for many years now, it’s very exciting,’’ she said.
“Unfortunately, with Covid and everything, we haven’t been able to come home, but we are able to now and to be able to play such a good side as Korea will be a really good test for us again.
“We had a good result against them last time [a 2-0 win after an earlier 2-1 loss in Korea last November], so hopefully we can do the same on home soil.’’
Moore agreed it would be “massive’’ to be back in Christchurch and hoped the games there might inspire Canterbury football fans to “follow us around the country’’ at the World Cup.
It will also be an opportunity for the Football Ferns to register their first win in Christchurch after three losses and a draw in four previous encounters since 1980.
Esson, who has nine caps, got a rare start in the second game against South Korea last year and distinguished herself with several fine saves.
She is locked in a three-way tussle for the keeper’s jersey with 79-cap veteran Erin Nayler and 21-year-old Aston Villa net minder Anna Leat, who saved four penalties in a League Cup shootout win over Manchester United last weekend.
Esson said “the competition is fantastic’’ and the trio were “driving each other to be better. Every time we go on tour we enjoy training with each other and I look forward to continuing that into next year.’’
Moore and Esson spoke to media from Nagano where the Football Ferns are preparing for a game against former world champions Japan on Sunday.
It will be the first time they have played the Japanese since the Wellington game four years ago when Moore scored her first senior international goal.
She said on Wednesday that it would be another tough challenge.
“Japan has always been a solid side, they are very technical, very disciplined and they are very respectful of the game. Anytime we get to play them it’s always enjoyable and again they bring their own tor of strengths.
“But there’s also parts of our game that we’ve been building that we can take to them. Very similar to Korea, there’s aspects we can look to get success from.”
Japan are ranked 11th in the world, South Korea are 18th and the Football Ferns 22nd.
AT A GLANCE
Football Ferns series against South Korea in Christchurch
Saturday November 12
Kick-off: 2.30pm, Orangetheory Stadium.
Tuesday 15 November
Kick off: 6pm, Orangetheory Stadium.
Football Ferns’ history in Christchurch
The New Zealand women’s team has played four previous games in Christchurch.
1980: v Australia, lost 3-2.
1986: v Australia, lost 1-0.
v Taiwan, lost 2-1.
1991: v Australia, drew 0-0.
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