New Zealand players evacuated after hotel fire

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It’s been an eventful few days for New Zealand’s players at the Women’s World Cup.

The Football Ferns woke to the news of a deadly shooting in Auckland hours before the start of the tournament, secured a historic first win on the global stage – with many of their players overcome with emotion at full-time – before being forced to evacuate the team hotel after a suspected arson attack.

The co-hosts were moved to a separate location in New Zealand’s largest city on Saturday night before finally being allowed to return to the hotel.

By Sunday it was business as usual with defender CJ Bott and forward Gabi Rennie facing the media to preview Tuesday’s Group A game with the Philippines in Wellington (06:30 BST).

“It was devastating and it definitely threw a spanner in the works for us,” said Leicester City’s Bott about the fire.

“The fire does not appear to have been targeted at the team, Fifa or the Fifa Women’s World Cup in general,” a statement issued by New Zealand Football read.

It said a 34-year-old has been charged with burglary and arson, while no players or staff suffered any ill effects.

The incident happened only two days after a shooting close to where hundreds of football supporters were due to gather at a fan park left two people dead and six injured.

It overshadowed the build-up to the opening match of the tournament, which saw New Zealand defeat Norway 1-0 in front of 42,137 fans at Eden Park.

“It’s not ideal and it’s not a situation anyone wants to be in,” said Bott about the fire.

“One of the fire exits was a bit smoky, but we got down the other safe exit and we exited the building perfectly fine.

“We felt safe to return later and saw plenty of security around. Things went back to normal pretty much straight away.”

New Zealand are looking to make the nation of five million people proud by reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time. They will take a big step towards achieving that goal by defeating the Philippines in Bott’s home city.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind,” added Bott about Thursday’s win.

“All our phones were blowing up. Coming off a game like that is a crazy experience and we were all running on a lot of adrenaline.

“To be honest, not a lot of us got much sleep.”

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Is there more pressure on New Zealand to beat the Philippines, who are making their World Cup debut, in the wake of the memorable win over Norway?

“My mum asked me the same question,” said Bott, who signed a new contract with Leicesterexternal-link before the tournament.

“We still have the weight of the country on our shoulders. At the same time that experience at Eden Park the other night has given us a lot of confidence.

“It’s a job well done, it’s a box ticked and now we move on to the Philippines.

“New Zealand isn’t such a football nation but this World Cup has thrown football in people’s faces. I’m not surprised everyone has got on board. We just want to inspire a nation.”

Finance minister Grant Robertson and former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern congratulate CJ Bott after New Zealand's win over Norway
Finance minister Grant Robertson (left) and former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (hidden) congratulate CJ Bott after New Zealand’s win over Norway

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