Rio 2016: Football Ferns look to go farther

The Football Ferns are going to be making their third Olympic appearance in Rio and to get to the knockout stages they have a tough road ahead. Ranked 17th in the world, New Zealand will be facing the world number one USWNT in their first match of the tournament.

Olympic history

The Ferns made their first Olympic appearance in Beijing in 2008 and did not make it past the group stage. They were the only team to not win a single match in their group. The group was made up of the United States, Japan and Norway, who all made it out of the group stage.

The second appearance was in London in 2012, where the Football Ferns made it to the quarterfinals and eventually lost to the U.S. off of Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux goals.

The roster

The unique thing about this New Zealand roster is that seven members will be going to their third Olympics and only two will be making their Olympic debuts. Most players already have experience on the big stage whether it is the Olympics or Women's World Cup, so there is not likely to be as many Olympic jitters for this team.

Many of the veterans will be key players to this Olympic team. Defenders Abby Erceg and Ali Riley will be key to locking down the defense. Riley has proven to be very good at holding down her marks and moving the ball into offensive opportunities as well as keeping the ball out of the net. Erceg is captain and holds down the defense in the center. She controls the backline and as long as she can stay strong with her defense, they can limit their opponents on goals.

Hannah Wilkinson takes on Stephanie Catley of Australia in a recent friendly | Quinn Rooney - Getty Images

Amber Hearn, Sarah Gregorius, and Hannah Wilkinson will be key in the goal-scoring department. These three have the most goals on the team and if they can get open and score first, they can make a difference against the strong powers in their group like the USWNT and France.

The group

Group G is comprised of all top 25 teams in the FIFA rankings with two teams in the top five.

The first match is against the USWNT and will definitely be a tough match for the Football Ferns. The last time the two teams met was in a friendly before the Women’s World Cup in April 2015. The USWNT won in a commanding 4-0 game. The last Olympic meeting was in the quarterfinals in London. The US had many good chances on goal, but the Football Ferns limited them to two goals. Defensive tactics will be key against the USWNT and with captain Erceg’s lead in the backline, they have a chance at limiting the US.

The next game is against Colombia. The Football Ferns are ranked higher than this team, but a win would give more confidence ahead of the final match against France. Colombia is known to be a physical team, so if the Ferns can keep up with the physicality, they can beat the Colombians. Scoring first and not letting up pressure would be key to winning this match.

The final game of group play is against the number three French team. France will be a team to beat. In 2012, France came in fourth place against Canada. The Football Ferns will have to be strong defensively to keep out the French forwards and keep a high-pressure game to stay in the match. Scoring first will be a great help at controlling the game and getting out of the group stage.

Pushing for gold

The Football Ferns will be looking to get farther than they made it four years ago, perhaps even looking for gold. Their first test will be against the number one team in the world on August 3, 2016.

Olympic Roster

GOALKEEPERS: Erin Nayler, Rebecca Rolls

DEFENDERS: Ria Percival, Anna Green, Abby Erceg, Rebekah Stott, Ali Riley, Meikayla Moore

MIDFIELDERS: Katie Duncan, Kirsty Yallop, Betsy Hassett, Katie Bowen, Annalie Longo

FORWARDS: Amber Hearn, Sarah Gregorius, Rosie White, Hannah Wilkinson, Jasmine Pereira

TRAVELING RESERVES: CJ Bott, Daisy Cleverley, Victoria Esson, Paige Satchell