Back Chat: US soccer legend Kristine Lilly hits cold Dunedin with some warm words for Football Ferns before FIFA Women’s World Cup

Kristine Lilly isn’t messing around when it comes to selling the gospel about the FIFA Women’s World Cup, or the women’s game in general.

Lilly, a double world champion who played in the midfield for the United States Women’s Soccer Team for more than 23 years, only arrived in New Zealand on Friday, but by Saturday morning she was taking a skills session for youngsters on a typically fresh winter’s morning in Dunedin.

The 51-year-old has accomplished everything possible in the women’s game, and has seen the trajectory of the sport go up and up during her career.

She believes that co-hosting the World Cup will take the game in New Zealand to the next level, giving it the boost that the United States received in 1999 as host country.

And, in words of encouragement for Football Ferns fans, Lilly says Stuff that the out-of-form Football Ferns could yet make an impact due to home-ground advantage.

So, the big question is: can the Football Ferns get out of their group?

“I think so. The thing about it, you’ve just got to get points. So, the first game [against Norway] is going to be their biggest one. If they get a point out of that, that’s going to set a good stage for them.”

Kristine Lilly, left, in action against New Zealand midfielder Rebecca Smith during a game in 2007. The US beat 6-1 at Soldier Field in Chicago.


Kristine Lilly, left, in action against New Zealand midfielder Rebecca Smith during a game in 2007. The US beat 6-1 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

What’s the tournament going to mean to a wee country like New Zealand?

“I tell you, when we hosted [in 1999] the change that it makes for the communities, and for the country is amazing. I think you’ll see a change in the excitement from the young people. I think it’s going to bring people together, you’re going to see people from all over the world come through your city. It’s a wonderful thing, and something that you’re very lucky to have.”

What about the United States – the squad announcement showed they are big deal at home. What are the expectation levels on them?

“I think the players, I think their expectation is they want to win. They know it’s not going to be easy, especially at this World Cup, the biggest field with 32 teams, it’s not going to be an easy feat for anybody to win, but someone’s going to win it. It’s going to be exciting to see how the US does in New Zealand – they’re here for their first three games.”

Why are American women so good at football?

“The mentality of the women when I was on the team … we wanted to just be successful. We wanted it. Even though women’s soccer wasn’t very popular when I was playing, were we’re, ‘Well, we think it’s great, so we’re going to keep fighting for it’. So, they have this fight, and we’ve been trying to break the barriers to get women involved in the game. We’ve done that earlier than other countries, but now England’s at that that stage where they broke that barrier – 80,000 people watching them at Wembley, and in Spain, they’re having sellout crowds in the pro league.”

Don’t be modest – do you take some personal pride in that growth, knowing you played a role?

“Now that I’m older, I kind of look back as, ‘Yeah, maybe we did help’. I think everyone that came before us has made an impact, and we were part of that impact. After the ‘99 World Cup, when we hosted it, things changed in our country. That’s why I think it’s an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to have this growth after the World Cup being here.”

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