5 Aug 2016

Ferns yearn for USA test

2:44 pm on 5 August 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics - The first New Zealand athletes take centre stage in Rio tomorrow as the Football Ferns kick off their Olympic campaign against the world number one, the United States.

Hannah Wilkinson and Betsy Hassett

Hannah Wilkinson and Betsy Hassett Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The US are the overall favourites to win the tournament back to back, and are also the reigning World Cup winners.

However, the Ferns' coach, Tony Readings, is shrugging off the challenge, saying they have to beat the best at some point in the tournament to stand a chance.

He backs his team having genuine hopes of going far.

"We've had some success on the world stage and over the past four years a lot of people around the world will know a lot more about our team," he said.

"We're not flying under the radar anymore and aren't the dark horses we used to be, we play regularly against the top teams in the world - when teams look at us they see a team full of very talented players across the pitch."

Meanwhile, New Zealand's captain, defender Abby Erceg, is not worried about facing one of the world's best players.

She will line up opposite Alex Morgan, who has scored 67 goals for the US.

She said the challenge excites her.

"You're at the Olympic Games so you're going to come up against the best players in the world and that's obviously what you want to do," she said.

"You want to learn about yourself and try to solve these problems. We can do as much homework as we like on the players and watch as much footage as we want but, at the end of the day, we need to solve the problems on the field with our communication and cohesion."

The Ferns are coming off the back of a 4-1 win over South Africa in their last warm-up game, which midfielder, Betsy Hassett, said gave them a big confidence boost.

"We played as a team and we can play even better than that," she said.

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg in action against Australia

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg in action against Australia, 2015 Photo: Photosport

"It's a good result for us as we need to get some goals under our belt so that we're comfortable going into our first game."

Thursday's game kicks off about 10am. The Ferns will also face Colombia and France in the group stage.

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