Fern Gabi Rennie: Medal-winning memories can inspire New Zealand co-hosts

New Zealand youngster Gabi Rennie says there are positive lessons to be taken from her experience of winning bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.

The past seven months have provided a sobering reminder to New Zealand that, regardless of home advantage, World Cup success will require the upsetting of some lengthy odds.

With ten winless matches played during that time, eight defeats endured and just two goals scored, crumbs of comfort for the Football Ferns have been in decidedly short supply.

Yet within the co-hosts’ squad are a clutch of youngsters who know from experience what it takes for Kiwi underdogs to surprise and thrive on the global stage.

Striker Gabi Rennie is one of the graduates from a New Zealand team that, five years ago, stunned the likes of Canada and Japan en route to winning bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Main photo: Gabi Rennie of New Zealand controls the ball during the international football friendly match between the New Zealand Football Ferns and the United States National Women’s Team at Auckland’s Eden Park in January 2023. Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Phototek.

It was the first World Cup medal won by the country’s footballers at any level, and its impact was momentous. When the time came to select the nation’s favourite sporting moment of 2018, a population normally fixated on rugby voted instead for the Uruguayan exploits of their aspiring female footballers.

‘It was a really big deal for New Zealand football’

“Thinking back to that, it still feels absolutely surreal,” Rennie told FIFA.

“I think that will always be one of the biggest achievements in my life. And to have shared it with such a special group of people, it’s probably the biggest thing that I’ll carry with me.

“Winning bronze was awesome. It was a really big deal for New Zealand football and for women’s football especially. I didn’t really realise how big a deal it was at the time, but looking back, I really appreciate it now.”

If she is in any doubt of the achievement’s significance, Rennie’s more experienced teammates are sure to remind her. The senior Ferns were, after all, in the midst of a training camp when the U-17s beat Canada to take their place on that World Cup podium – and well remember the impact it had.

Football Fern Katie Bowen … ‘we can lean on those younger players’. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Katie Bowen, who was among the players cheering on her younger countrywomen that day, believes it has even bestowed a special status on graduates such as Rennie.

“I still remember celebrating their win,” the experienced Bowen told FIFA.

“And I think we can actually lean on those younger girls. That’s not common to do in senior teams but I think we can discuss what it took for them to seize that moment and make sure it didn’t slip away.

“They had success that we’ve not had as senior Ferns teams and I think they can teach us what they learned from that tournament and what came after it. We’ve heard about it before, of course, but it can just reignite that fire and keep us pushing to be like that with the Ferns.”

‘I look up to those players so much’

Rennie’s face lights up at the relaying of this praise, and it’s clear that she, too, believes that there are lessons to be found in that Uruguayan campaign.

“Gosh, I look up to those players so much,” the 21-year-old said of her senior teammates. “They’ve always kind of been my idols, the players I’ve been striving to be like, so to know that we also inspired them is really special.

“I know they’re really appreciative of what we did, and hopefully the players from that team can contribute and help the senior team now.

“For me, the biggest thing from Uruguay that I took away was our team culture and the absolute fight that we had as a group. I think that was what really got us the results at the end of the day against those bigger teams like Canada. And hopefully, that’s something that I can help really bring in into this team.”

Slaying some of the game’s giants required not just fight, but a fearlessness that is sure to be crucial to the senior Ferns. A small-nation inferiority complex can be crippling, after all, and would be understandable in a team with New Zealand’s current form – and historical record of zero wins from 15 Women’s World Cup matches.

“We need to be positive,” insisted Rennie. “Going into the games with the mentality that genuinely anything can happen, and doing whatever it takes to get the end result, is the big thing. It’s a game of football at the end of the day, 11 v 11, and surprises can happen in this kind of environment. We saw that at the men’s World Cup last year.

“Personally, I’m very excited. I think a World Cup is every player’s dream and goal, but to have a World Cup at home is next level. The idea of playing in front of our own fans and families at the biggest sporting event in the world is just incredible.

“I’m so proud to be a Kiwi, and I think these kind of events just really solidify that for me. And yeah, I’m very excited for the world to see New Zealand and what the country has to offer. We’re a very beautiful country and we pack a lot into a small area, so I think we can make a big impression.”

Off the field, ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ — with its dramatic landscapes and stunning scenery — is sure to dazzle. If Rennie can help the Ferns do the same on the pitch, this will be a World Cup that New Zealand as a nation will never forget.

Acknowledgement: Story supplied by FIFA.

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