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Women's World Cup: Why New Zealand nearly didn't compete

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New Zealand players before the Women's World Cup match against Canada on June 15, 2019.
New Zealand players before the Women's World Cup match against Canada on June 15, 2019. -
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After losing their first two matches in the women's World Cup against The Netherlands and Canada, New Zealand will on Thursday have one more shot at making it into the final 16.

They will play against Cameroon but even if they come out on top, they will need other group's third-placed teams to stumble in order to squeeze through.

Yet win or lose, just being at the World Cup will have been a victory for the team, which just a year ago was on the verge of splitting with over a dozen players threatening to walk out.

In a June 2018 letter to New Zealand Football boss Andy Martin, thirteen of the players denounced a culture of intimidation by then-manager Andreas Heraf.

They accused the Austrian coach of bullying, describing having to ask to leave the table after dinner and being yelled at for passing the ball backwards or between defenders — Heraf reportedly judged as too risky. They added that they would no longer represent their country if the team continued to be led by Heraf.

The manager defended himself in an interview with Austria's Der Standard newspaper, saying it was a "conspiracy theory".

"The players oppose my European style, with high standards and high expectations of professionalism, and prefer a fun and family culture with a focus on making fun videos and opening up to social networking" he added.

But he was put on "special leave" while a review was being carried out and then resigned a month later.

Tom Sermanni, who had previously coached Australia's and the US' female teams, was appointed in October 2018.

Team captain Ali Riley, told L'Equipe newspaper last week that the team "went through a very dark period when the players didn't know whether to stay or not."

"But having Tom and seeing the Federation find a replacement like him, that changed our feelings. We went from powerlessness and despair to thinking yes, we can win this fight. This strengthened our bond as a team and I am very proud of what we have done over the past year," she added.

Since the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking was introduced in 2013, the Ferns have averaged at the 21st place. They are currently 19th.

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