Ferns duo on verge of 100th caps
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).