Ferns duo on verge of 100th caps

The Southland Times - - SPORT - AN­DREW VO­ER­MAN

Just as two Foot­ball Ferns cen­tu­ri­ons have re­tired, an­other two have come along.

An­nalie Longo and Betsy Has­sett will reach the mile­stone the next time they play, which could be to­day, in the first of two friendlies against the United States.

They will join six oth­ers who are there al­ready - cur­rent team-mates Ria Per­ci­val (124 caps), Ali Ri­ley (109), and Kirsty Yal­lop (102), Am­ber Hearn (120), who is miss­ing th­ese games - the other is next Wed­nes­day - and Abby Erceg (131) and Katie Dun­can (119), who both re­tired this year.

Longo, 26, and Has­sett, 27, both play in mid­field, and have been reg­u­lar faces in the Ferns through­out their ca­reers.

Ri­ley, 29, has taken over as Ferns cap­tain fol­low­ing Erceg’s re­tire­ment, and she said it was great to see Longo and Has­sett join her and the oth­ers in the exclusive club, es­pe­cially when they have all grown up to­gether.

‘‘It’s just so cool that th­ese two women have de­vel­oped so much. They’ve had their own unique paths, but both have been so im­por­tant for this team, and made huge im­pacts over the years, and we’re go­ing to count on them to con­tinue to do that.

‘‘They have so many years left in them, so I’m glad that there are play­ers like that, who have been on the team a long time but are younger than me and can keep it go­ing when I’m gone.’’

Ri­ley first played with Longo in 2006, when they were mem­bers of the first New Zealand un­der-20 team to com­pete at a World Cup, at a time when the in­ter­na­tional women’s pro­gramme was mak­ing a fresh start un­der the lead­er­ship of Cana­dian coach John Herd­man.

Longo was the youngest mem­ber of that team, at just 15, and went on to make her se­nior de­but be­fore Ri­ley, against China in Novem­ber that year. They first ap­peared to­gether the fol­low­ing year, in the buildup to the 2007 World Cup, and have been reg­u­lar team­mates ever since.

‘‘She was so young and this tiny lit­tle player - we call her Flea, y’know?,’’ said Ri­ley of Longo, who has been a reg­u­lar starter only since 2014, but is one of the coun­try’s most tal­ented play­ers, mak­ing good use of the fancy foot­work skills she gained from danc­ing as a young­ster. ‘‘She had so much skill,’’ said Ri­ley. ‘‘We’d make her tap dance for us, and just see­ing how much she’s grown, she’s such an amaz­ing player on the ball. This team and the way we play, and how we’ve evolved to be­come a team that re­ally tries to keep pos­ses­sion and play a good style of foot­ball, that’s be­cause we have some­one like her on the field.

‘‘I’m so glad that she has stuck with it, be­cause she’s def­i­nitely faced some chal­lenges, and there’s been times when she wasn’t that go-to player, but she’s through that now.’’

Ri­ley said it was the same with Has­sett, who made her Ferns de­but in 2008, against Ar­gentina, but has been es­tab­lished as a reg­u­lar since 2011, and is one of the tough­est play­ers her cap­tain has ever seen.

‘‘She and Flea have been friends from the be­gin­ning, so I think it’s real cool that they’ve had this par­al­lel time­line, even though they’ve had such dif­fer­ent paths, with Betsy play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball all over the world, and Flea play­ing do­mes­ti­cally. They’re both such tal­ented play­ers and such de­pend­able mid­field­ers.’’

Has­sett is cur­rently based in Ice­land, at KR Reyk­javik, the most re­cent stop in a ca­reer which has taken her to Ger­many, Eng­land, Nor­way and the Nether­lands, where she won the league­and-cup dou­ble with Ajax ear­lier this year.

Longo hails from Auck­land, as does Has­sett, and has mostly re­mained in New Zealand through­out her ca­reer. She is cur­rently a women’s de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for Main­land Foot­ball, based in Christchurch, where she plays for Can­ter­bury United Pride in the Na­tional Women’s League.

Both are likely to be in­volved to­day, when the world No 19 Foot­ball Ferns seek a huge up­set against the No 1 United States in Den­ver, Colorado, start­ing at 2pm (NZT).

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