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New Zealand’s Football Ferns Looking Forward to Hosting Team USA Ahead of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is heading to Australia as well next summer.
Team USA, Hailie Mace, Trinity Rodman, Lindsey Horan and the rest of USWNT make their way out to the field to play Spain in Pamplona, Spain.

Team USA, Hailie Mace, Trinity Rodman, Lindsey Horan and the rest of USWNT make their way out to the field to play Spain in Pamplona, Spain.

Earlier this month it was announced that the U.S. women’s national soccer team will be heading Down Under in January to hold a training camp and play two friendlies against the New Zealand squad, known as the Football Ferns. The trip will give the USWNT a chance to play full international matches in the venues which just six months later will host its group games in the 2023 Women’s World Cup. (New Zealand and Australia are splitting host duties for the July event.)

This is the first time the Women’s World Cup will be held in the Southern Hemisphere and the field has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams. New Zealand national team defender Claudia Bunge is looking forward to hosting the event in her home country. “It’s really exciting,” says Bunge, who plays for the Melbourne Victory of the Australian W-League. “It’s not something that I thought would be possible in my career. It’s great for football in New Zealand.”

Below, the 23-year-old, who will be playing in her first World Cup this summer, talks more about what the upcoming tournament means to her and gives some local tips for anyone traveling to the region for the matches.

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Claudia Bunge celebrates with her family after winning the A-League Women’s Grand Final match between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on March 27, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. 

Claudia Bunge celebrates with her family after winning the A-League Women’s Grand Final match between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on March 27, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. 

This will be a history-making year, what are you looking forward to?

“I’m looking forward to everything; the event itself is going to be incredible. We’re very lucky to have quite a few games on home soil in New Zealand before the World Cup which is great to build excitement and momentum in the lead-up.”

When did you fall in love with football?

“Growing up like most Kiwi kids, I wanted to play every sport I could. I signed up for every school team to get an extra day off of school, and I especially loved any team sports. However, the moment I realized I loved football was while I was watching the U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008 at age 9 or 10, where I got to watch some of the girls I’m currently playing with now on the national team–I just thought they were all so cool, and I loved the sport from then on!”

What do you love most about the sport?

“I really enjoy the people that I meet through football, I’ve met some of my best friends through this sport. It also gives me a chance to travel and meet people from around the world. I love the competitive side and pushing myself.”

Who are your idols?

“I have a few, but my top two would be {New Zealand shot putter] Valerie Adams, she’s a boss, has two kids and finishes on the podium at the Olympics, and Brazilian footballer Marta, who I grew up watching and have always thought is awesome.”

How are you preparing for the World Cup?

“Now I’m back with my club team, Melbourne Victory, who are in the middle of preseason so I’m training in a club environment.”

Do you get nervous before a game? How do you calm any nerves?

“Yes, I do get nervous, but I think nerves are good. If I’m not nervous before a game I think I should be a bit worried. It shows how much it means to people when they’re nervous for things. To relax before a game, I like to go for a walk, get a coffee, chat to my friends and teammates—be really chill and stay off my feet.”

The U.S. team has made strides toward gender-pay equality here and on an international level. Have you dealt with similar issues in your country?

“Yeah, definitely, the game has come such a long way in the last two years, people are starting to invest more in women’s football and it just shows what it could be like. Women’s football has always had to battle in a club and national team environment, however, for example, the facilities we use, the times we train and so on. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s getting better. What the U.S. did started the movement, and it’s had a flow-on effect so hopefully we can keep improving the game because a lot of people do watch it and a lot of people do care about it.”

What else can be done?

“If people are willing to invest time and money into clubs and national teams, it will help create an equal playing field for everyone involved, and ultimately help get the women’s game off the ground. Representation is also key for us, showing up in the media and getting more people familiar with the Football Ferns will help grow the sport [locally].”

Seeing as the U.S. team will be based in New Zealand, what are your must-see places or things to do for them and anyone visiting?

“I’m from West Auckland so any of the west coast beaches are top of the list, Piha and Muriwai are beautiful places to visit. Venture up north of Auckland to Omaha, which is also a pretty cool beach. Basically, I strongly recommend visitors to go to any New Zealand beach. Also, get fish and chips on the beach and visit the west coast for amazing walks.”

What’s the best part of New Zealand?

“The Coromandel Peninsula–I have a family holiday house there and spend lots of time there with my family, it’s pretty special.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 kicks off July 20, 2023.