Arrowtown-raised Football Fern Anna Leat has been to many tournaments with the national team, including the Olympics, but nothing compares to the buzz around this Fifa Women’s World Cup in her own backyard.
‘‘It’s really cool … it’s unreal seeing the country get behind us and that extra motivation and support is huge,’’ Leat says.
‘‘We’re up for it and pumped, playing for each other and the people you love.’’
When Mountain Scene caught up with the 22-year-old goalkeeper she was signing auto graphs at a community event in Napier, a day after her side beat Vietnam 2-0 in a warm-up game at a packed McLean Park to snap a 10-game losing streak.
Leat says there’s no reason why the Ferns can’t continue their winning form into the World Cup and advance into the knockout stages for the first time.
They kick off their campaign against Norway at a blockbuster tournament opener this Thursday at Eden Park, followed by Philippines in Wellington on July 25 and their final Group A match against Switzerland in Dunedin on July 30.
The Ferns have tasted success against all three teams.
“We’ve got no reason not to be confident.
‘‘On home turf is another reason we can back ourselves.
‘‘They are opponents we can face up to and, on our day, there’s no reason not to win.”
Although this is her first taste of a senior world cup, Leat knows all about play-offs at junior tournaments.
In 2018 she saved two penalties and then kicked the winning penalty shot against Japan to send the New Zealand under-17 side into the World Cup semifinal, the first Kiwi team in either women’s or men’s football to qualify for the final four in a global tournament.
The goal won the public vote as the favourite sporting moment at the 2018 Halberg Awards — not bad for a keeper.
Sixth in line to take a penalty, Leat wasn’t expecting to get the call-up to take the shot “but it ended up playing out that way and ended up being the winner, so that was a pretty crazy moment”.
A moment that remains a highlight of her career, but will be surpassed with any success at this World Cup, she says.
Although the youngest of three keepers in the squad, Leat’s a veteran of the national team, making her debut for the senior Ferns as a 15-year-old in 2017.
She is also one of few players in the team plying her trade in the English Super League, having just finished a season for Aston Villa following a season for West Ham in 2021/22.
Last October Leat made headlines for saving an incredible four penalties for Villa during a penalty shootout against Manchester United to secure a 4-3 win in the League Cup.
She attributes her success to good hand-eye coordination developed playing different sports growing up in Arrowtown.
Especially karate, in which she attained a purple belt — three off black — before having to park the martial art for her pro football career.
Despite leaving the Basin as a 10-year-old when her family moved to Auckland, Arrowtown’s where her heart is.
“Every time I go back it feels like home, probably more and more each time.
‘‘The place you grow up is always going to have that special feeling, I most definitely get back when I can.”
She intends returning after her World Cup commitments are over — ‘‘after the final’’, she quips.