As a football-mad four-year-old growing up in Auckland, going on to play 100 matches for her country was far from the mind of Annalie Longo.
Her only thoughts at that stage were to get out in the backyard with her two brothers and kick a ball around as often as possible. But that early introduction to the game has more than paid off and Longo is now on the verge of bringing up a century of caps for the Football Ferns.
In doing so, she will join some illustrious company as no male player is yet to reach that milestone in ‘A’ internationals – Ivan Vicelich is the most-capped All White on 88 – while only six other Ferns have gotten there, namely Abby Erceg, Katie Duncan, Ria Percival, Amber Hearn, Kirsty Yallop and Ali Riley.
Longo is likely to become the latest centurion on this month’s two-match tour of the United States and, while careful not to take her place in the starting line-up for granted – is looking forward to the moment.
“Obviously, I’ll be training hard to try to get into the team and if it does happen then I’ll be very proud,” she says. “It’s been a long journey with some amazing girls and it will be exciting. Hopefully, I can get on the pitch and we can do a job against the USA.”
Despite racking up so many appearances in a senior international career that now spans over a decade, the gifted playmaker insists getting called up for the Ferns remains a huge honour, especially when it’s to take on the best team in the world.
“It’s really exciting, it’s been a long time since we’ve been together so it’s nice to be able to come back together, start afresh and build on our campaign as we work towards some big tournaments coming up,” she says. “I can’t wait to see the team again and be back training together.”
Longo could be joined in playing her hundredth game on the United States tour by fellow midfielder and long-time friend Betsy Hassett, who is also just one match away from the rare milestone.
“I grew up playing with Betsy so to do it around the same time as her would be a good feeling,” Longo says.
After the recent retirements of former skipper Abby Erceg and Katie Duncan and the unavailability of prolific striker Amber Hearn for this tour, the Football Ferns squad has a fresh look to it with several relatively inexperienced yet exciting players included.
In contrast, the United States – number one on the rankings and reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup champions – possess a squad packed full of experience and world-class talent. The 19th-ranked Ferns will therefore have the odds stacked against them in Denver and Cincinnati but Longo is relishing the challenge.
“It will be good to see where we stand and there’s no better opposition than the USA,” she says. “It will be tough and we know that but we’ve all been working hard away in our own environments and we’ll try to come together and take on the best team in the world.”
Now based in Christchurch, the 26-year-old works as a Women’s Development Officer for the Mainland Football Federation and is enjoying spreading the gospel of the female game in the South Island.
“It’s nice to be able to give back to football and try to inspire other females to play,” she says.
“It’s a little bit different putting my coaching hat on when I’m out in the community but it’s exciting times. We’re just heading into the national league campaign with the Canterbury United Pride so I’m really looking forward to that.”
As a born-and-bred Aucklander, wearing the red and black of Canterbury has taken some getting used to but, after captaining the Pride to last season’s national crown, Longo is now very much at home in her adopted city.
“It’s a little bit strange, especially when we come up against Auckland. But we’re doing really well and have won the league in three of the last four campaigns so it’s nice to be a part of it,” she says.
Longo is now looking to translate that domestic success to the international scene and says the desire to achieve something as a unit has now overtaken any personal goals.
“I think as a team we still haven’t achieved as much as we can and as much as I’d like to. Hopefully we can medal at a big event – that’s the plan,” she says.
Putting in a pair of credible performances against a team at the top of the world tree would signal the Ferns are capable of doing so and that quest starts at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver, Colorado on Saturday 16 September (NZT).
Please find attached audio from an interview with Football Ferns midfielder Annalie Longo.
Football Ferns Tour of USA
USA vs Football Ferns
Saturday 16 September, 2pm (NZT)
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
USA vs Football Ferns
Wednesday 20 September, 12pm (NZT)
New Zealand: 1. Erin Nayler (GK), 2. Ria Percival, 3. Anna Green, 4. CJ Bott, 5. Meikayla Moore, 6. Rebekah Stott, 7. Ali Riley, 8. Daisy Cleverley, 10. Annalie Longo, 11. Kirsty Yallop, 12. Betsy Hassett, 13. Rosie White, 14. Katie Bowen, 15. Martine Puketapu, 16. Olivia Chance, 17. Hannah Wilkinson, 18. Aimee Phillips, 20. Malia Steinmetz, 21. Anna Leat (GK), 22. Katie Rood, 23. Victoria Esson (GK), 25. Liz Anton, 26. Jane Barnett
Coach: Tony Readings