She is still only 17-years-old, but Amelia Abbott is already part of New Zealand sporting history after winning bronze at the FIFA U17 World Cup. Reporter Jonty Dine talks to her about the team’s dream run.
Walking through the tunnel of Uruguay’s Estadio Charrua, Amelia Abbott’s body was filled with nerves. She could hear the thunder of the crowd. She could feel the excitement.
It was early in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup and the Young Football Ferns were playing the hosts, Uruguay.
As Amelia emerged from the tunnel, she was greeted by thousands of screaming fans. It was the largest crowd she had played in front of. But most weren’t cheering for her team.
Kiwi fans were scattered amid the sea of South Americans but made their voices heard.
When the whistle went, she felt the weight of her country behind her.
“It spurred a new want and energy that I haven’t had,” she says, now back home in Nelson.
The Kiwis played six matches over 18 gruelling days at the World Cup.
The demanding schedule took its toll on Amelia’s body but her desire to make New Zealand proud saw her push through the pain. As she thought about her friends watching from the other side of the world it gave her the extra surge she needed.
New Zealand would go on to upset the hosts 2-1 after opening the tournament with a stunning 1-0 win over Finland. As they continued to progress it became clear this New Zealand side were not there to make up the numbers, they were there to make history.
“We wanted to show the footballing world what our team was about,” Amelia says.
After stumbling against Ghana, the Kiwis recovered to knock over Japan and Canada to claim third.
The motivation for the players remained clear throughout, Amelia says.
“I wanted to succeed for the girls by my side and all those who support us, for New Zealand.”
She says the spirit of the side was incredible.
It was an emotionally and physically-draining experience for Amelia as between the moments of utter joy were times of pain and exhaustion, feelings which were shared by all 21 members of the squad, she says.
“After each match we won, we were overwhelmed.”
However, Amelia says throughout the tour the team stayed positive and focused.
“We were sure to make the most of the moment, it was a special feeling, a team spirit like no other I’ve experienced.”
She says, each member of the squad has their own special spark.
“There was always lots of laughter, singing and fun. The team vibe was so much fun, we all just enjoyed the time we had together, and are already missing it, hopefully a reunion will happen in the near future.”
The midfielder started her football career at ‘first kicks’ at Saxton Fields when she was just five years old.
“My parents say I was always kicking a ball around and wanted to start playing shortly after I could walk.”
Just over a decade later and she would net her side’s opening goal in the quarter final of the U17 World Cup, as New Zealand stunned Japan with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win to set up a semi-final showdown with Spain.
Amelia scored in the 17th minute after a well-executed set move.
“My dad has always told me to trust my instincts, my body just took over and it seems training and repetition paid off as all I wanted was to get the ball in the net, so I just hit it.”
She says she knew the opportunity for a shot was coming with a right-hand corner.
“I decided to just not overthink anything as all the girls had a job for this set piece, a job I trusted they would all complete, so I guess I also had to complete mine.”
Amelia thundered the ball to the left of the despairing Japanese keeper with a powerful right foot punt from the penalty arc. “The feeling that came after was one I can’t explain, surreal, a moment I will always treasure.”
As a cherry on top, it was nominated for the tournament’s top goal. Next up Amelia says she plans to return to Nelson College for Girls in 2019 for year 13. “I might look at giving under 20s a crack, so definitely want to keep up training and playing to let it see where it takes me.”
Amelia says the experience is not one she will forget in a hurry.
“Friendships and memories have been made for life.”
Football Ferns’ dream run:
Won 1-0 vs Finland
Won 2-1 vs Uruguay
Lost 2-0 vs Ghana
Drew 1-1 vs Japan (quarter final)
Lost 2-0 vs Spain (semi-final)
Won 2-1 vs Canada (play-off for third)