Kiwi team makes history
Hawke’s Bay coach Leon Birnie and his girls have added another fairy tale chapter to New Zealand football history after booking a place in the semifinal of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay last weekend.
“All along we have said to the players ‘Dare to dream’ and we continue to do just that,” Leon says from Montevideo after the Kiwi teenagers upset favourites and former age-group champions Japan 4-3 in a penalty shootout after the sides were locked 1-all in regulation time of their quarter-final match.
The 36-year-old Central Football administrator from Napier went to bed well after midnight after receiving a flood of congratulatory messages from fans throughout New Zealand and abroad following their memorable achievements at the Estadio Alberto Suppici.
The favourites had failed to break down the resolute defence of the underdogs despite an own goal from Hannah MackayWright. But all was forgotten as the Kiwi teenagers, after Amelia Abbott opened their account in the 17th minute, showed composure and a clinical edge in the penalty shootout with only Jayda Stewart getting under a pitch-wedge shot that curled well over the crossbar.
“This is a special moment and one that we will treasure for the rest of our lives in becoming the first New Zealand team to reach a World Cup semifinal. It is an amazing moment,” Leon says.