The following article appeared in the January edition of the Everton magazine. February’s edition - including in-depth features with Eliaquim Mangala, Theo Walcott, Seamus Coleman, Yakubu and much more - is on sale now. Click here for details.
“As a kid, my goal was always to play at the Olympics. It may be two years away, but it is something I am focussing on and ensuring I am fit and able to play when the time comes.”
Like every other athlete with dreams of representing their country in Tokyo 2020, Olivia Chance is putting in the groundwork now. Having decided to step away from the New Zealand national team shortly after her 2011 debut against the Netherlands in the Cyprus Cup to complete her studies at the University of South Florida, the Everton Ladies midfielder is now back involved with the Football Ferns, and recently travelled with them for their tour of Thailand in late November.
It is a transitional period for the country, as they look to qualify for both the 2020 Olympic Games and the next World Cup in France the year before. A 25-strong group travelled to the South East Asian nation to play two games against the hosts, with five players aged between 16-18 and a further three yet to be capped. Even Chance, at 24, boasted only four caps to her name prior to the trip but is determined to cement her place as the Ferns evolve.
“We had a huge group going away, with a lot of new players coming into the squad for the first time, and a lot of young players, too,” explained Chance, who signed for Everton in February after impressing during a trial. “We have a new coach as well, Andreas Heraf, so there is a fresh environment.
“It is a transitional period for us, certainly. We are starting to generate more players into the professional leagues all over the world. For instance, there is Anna Green at Reading over here, our captain Ali Riley plays in Sweden, Katie Bowen is in America, Katie Rood’s at Juventus and Amber Hearn is currently with FC Koln. So slowly we are getting there and hopefully this current time will be a huge step towards progressing as a team and as a country.
“We played two games out there during the tour and I managed to start both of them. That’s great for me because 2017 was my first year back with the national team so to end it with a couple of starts is really satisfying and something to build on. Hopefully I can be more involved going forward into the World Cup and Olympics campaigns. I always dreamed of going to the Olympics so I would love to have that opportunity. Hopefully this is the start of that.”
All great journeys start with humble origins and that was certainly the case against Thailand, ranked 30th in the world, 11 places behind New Zealand in 19th. Chance recognises the need to play such games early on but hopes tougher tests are to come as the Ferns look to build across 2018.
“They were two interesting games!” she smiled. “The first was in Bangkok and we drew 0-0, which we should never have done but the pitch was shocking. It was possibly the worst pitch I have played on in my life! When we arrived, I was thinking it was where you let cows graze – there was no way it was our field.
“But the second game was played in an actual stadium – the SCG Stadium, which is also called the Thunderdome, based in Pak Kret, Nonthaburi – and that had a much better surface to play on. We managed to win that one 5-0.
“Hopefully in 2018 we can look to play a few sides in Europe because that will really help make us a better team. It is great to play nations like Thailand, score lots of goals and win, but if we want to push on and progress into the World Cup knockout stages and do well in the Olympics then we need to play good sides. We played against the USA – the top team in women’s international football – last year and that was a great experience and test for us, so we need to be doing more of that. European sides will offer that. And they will be closer for me to travel to as well!
In the meantime, Chance has plenty of work to do back at home. Having been converted from her natural position playing behind the striker into a tenacious holding midfielder with an eye for a pass, the Tauranga native was thrust into another role out in Thailand. But she is willing to put in the graft to ensure her Olympic dream is realised.
“I was on the right wing – which I’d never played before – but given the freedom to drift inside onto my left. Well, we hoped that would be the case but it wasn’t as effective as in can be - Thailand defended as a block so by the time the ball found its way to me, I was having to try and break down this wall of opponents. It’s better when the ball is moved out to you quickly and you are counterattacking and have a little bit of space to work in.
“I enjoyed the experience though. It is going to take some responsibility on my part because if I am not playing in that position at Everton, I have to ensure that I continue to work on the traits that I need to play in that role. If the plan is for me to play wide on the right for New Zealand and cut in then I need to be comfortable doing that so that when I join up with them, the transition is fluid and I maintain a good level. But that makes me a better player.
“New Zealand are very attack-minded which I love. They look at me as being very much a part of that and that’s exciting. I’m a player who always wants to score and create goals. Hopefully I’ll be doing that on the biggest stage of them all in 2020.”