AUCKLAND: New Zealand may be out of the tournament but the co-hosts for the largest Women’s World Cup are soldiering on through the disappointment, as home fans point to a lasting football legacy.
The Football Ferns kicked off the tournament to enormous optimism, as they upset former champions Norway in front of a record crowd at Eden Park to claim their first-ever Women’s World Cup.
But after slaying Goliath they lost their footing, falling 1-0 to tournament debutantes the Philippines, before finishing third in Group A on goal difference as they tied 0-0 with Switzerland in their final fixture.
“Overall it’s just good for football in New Zealand,” said fan Josh Nelson after the match. “Just having more people excited about it and when it’s not World Cup season maybe more people will still care.”
The heartbreaking result meant New Zealand would be the first Women’s World Cup hosts to exit in the group stage.
That appeared to do little to diminish the co-hosts’ enthusiasm on Monday, however, as school children darted around the amenities at Auckland’s fan festival.
“It’s tough – it’d have been nice to see them go further,” said Alan Donoghue, whose 8- and 10-year-old daughters enjoyed a trip to the waterfront fan pavilion with their classmates.
Donoghue said they attended the US-Vietnam game previously and planned to be at Saturday’s round of sixteen affair in Auckland, even with the Ferns out of the running.
“I’m a father of two daughters so they love seeing the girls playing and stuff like that as well,” he said. “Everything’s predominantly boys so it’s quite nice for the girls to see the girls playing.”
Santha Brown, Auckland host city lead, said more than 33,000 visitors had come through the fan festival through Sunday, numbers that the Auckland organisers were pleased to see, as fans shuffled into the venue on Monday.
“We’re so proud of our Football Ferns,” she told Reuters. “That opening match in particular just really set the tone and the momentum for the tournament.”
At Kingslander bar, a stone’s throw from Eden Park, owner Steve Gillett said the tournament has been a boon to business, with weekday crowds two or three times what he would normally expect.
With Tuesday’s game between Portugal and the US, the round of sixteen affair, a quarter-final and semi-final match still on the schedule for Eden Park, he expects the crowds will continue to come.
“A shame that the Ferns couldn’t go any further but everyone’s become a soccer fan,” he said. “Everyone’s kind of adopted their second team.”