‘They can be proud’: Fans react as New Zealand exit Women’s World Cup

It was a promising night in downtown Auckland, where bars lining the waterfront filled with fans to watch the Women’s World Cup. At the Right Track, a sports bar, large screens covered the walls, broadcasting the group decider between New Zealand and Switzerland taking place in Dunedin (Ōtepoti), a picturesque city in the South Island. Tickets to the match had sold out, with a crowd of 26,000 – equivalent to a fifth of the city’s population – slated to watch. It was a match the Ferns needed to win.

Despite a loss to the Philippines last week, fans in the bar were optimistic about the team’s chances. Bhoomi P was a recent convert after the Ferns’ historic victory over Norway, while Petr Klouceck, from the Czech Republic, who has lived in New Zealand for a year and was wrapped in the country’s flag, “became a fan of New Zealand straight away”. The pair each had a stake in the outcome: NZ$40 apiece on 2-1 or 1-0 to New Zealand, equivalent to a dinner date, Klouceck said.

Enjoying a pint with eyes affixed to one of numerous screens was David Dare. On football, he was emphatic: “It is my greatest love.” With an English father, from Weymouth, Dare grew up watching and playing the game.

“Followed closely by music, I live and breathe it. I’m a footballer, my brother’s a musician, so we both have our father’s two passions. Football and music are to me closely linked – the two go together,” he said. Specifically, Britpop. Dare found rugby, New Zealand’s unofficial national sport, “too violent – it’s just guys running into each other. Football, to me, is beautiful.” However, women’s football was, while familiar to Dare, not a game he had closely followed, and he had not watched previous Women’s World Cups.

“This is the first time the game is getting the coverage it deserves and it’s fantastic, the players are fantastic. They’re actually better than the men in a way – just as good if not better. They’re not rolling around on the ground, there isn’t the time-wasting and the dissent with the referee, and the posturing,” he said.

He believed it would be difficult for the Ferns. “Switzerland is a good, organised European team. Nil-all they’ll go through, so nil-all suits them. We’d be underdogs to win this game. New Zealand and football are always underdogs, though – we make our way with tenacity and fight. They beat Norway, so they could definitely do it, but it’ll be hard,” he said.

Dare identified a problem that, he thought, also applied beyond professional sport. “Because we see the All Blacks win all the time, we assume that in other sports we will, too, so we think if you don’t win you must be useless, but the world is massive and New Zealand is tiny.”

He added: “Ultimately, the potential of the sport will be shown in the tournament and more young girls will play it, and more young people will get interested in it, and it’ll go from something quite small to something major. The legacy of the tournament means all genders will take up football, regardless of a win, loss or draw.”

At half-time at the family-friendly and semi-outdoor Fifa fan festival near the harbour in Auckland, a large crowd convened in bleachers and on bean bags in front of a giant screen. Fans in a sea of black puffer jackets and sneakers stood under neon lighting in the cool night, hot drinks clasped in hands.

Janelle Veith and Jayme Morrisette, both Norwegian-Swedish-Americans from Las Vegas, believed a New Zealand win was a long shot. Veith hoped for more touches in the final third. They said they had been unable to place a bet because their regular Vegas betting app was geoblocked in New Zealand.

David Merchant, of Hawaii, felt that the Ferns were the better team. “Tonight, they’re playing better than the Swiss. All Switzerland needs to do is hold on to a tie,” he said.

At the Fox, a cosy and dim-lit bar modelled on the quintessential London pub in Auckland’s harbourside precinct, a packed crowd replete with tall pints and hot chips was armed for the second half. The atmosphere was tense. Tables were thumped by palms. Heads were held in hands, hair was tugged, voices raised in chorus and cheer, gasps ensued. That it was tough to watch was a sentiment universally expressed at the final whistle, after a string of expectant moments and missed opportunities.

The match had ended 0-0, bringing the Ferns’ journey to an end.

Disappointment was evident among those on the table of Jack Tiller, who described the match as even and credited Switzerland’s play. “New Zealand tried really hard and played well, they just didn’t generate the chances that they needed,” he said. “The Ferns can be quite proud of what they’ve done, they’ve punched above their weight. They’ll be upset – the loss will be disappointing, but they’ve got their first win,”

Ian Harding, of Washington, summed up the match succintly. “What a bummer. I wish they’d gone through. It would have taken one goal – it’s just depressing.”

Pablo Ortiz, also of Washington, believed New Zealand were the better team. “They had more possession, but they just couldn’t score. Sometimes that’s part of the game, unfortunately,” he said.

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