Erceg clocks in 100

When the she takes to the field against Tonga in this morning’s opening match, she will become the first New Zealand footballer to reach 100 caps for her country – and all before she turns 25.

That’s no mean feat by any standard, but the young defender is incredibly modest about the milestone.

“I’ve actually had a couple of people ask me how it feels and it’s strange,” she says.

“You don’t really pay attention to it until people start pointing it out and asking about it.

“I think it’s more a testament to New Zealand Football and how the game has grown there. Obviously to achieve this at such a young age, and to be the first as well, it’s showing how the game is growing and the support they’re putting behind everyone.

“So as much as it’s down to me, it’s down to them as well.”

Erceg made her debut for the Football Ferns as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in a 3-0 loss to China in November and went on to represent New Zealand at the FIFA Women’s World Cup the following year.

Back then the side could be found in the back blocks of the world rankings, these days they are ranked 19th, and just last year reached their highest ever ranking of 16th.

She says coming into the national team, reaching milestones and making history was never part of the equation.

“Coming in you definitely don’t think you’re going to be the first, I mean, there’s girls in there that already had 20-30 caps before.

“I think I was fortunate to come in at a time when the support grew from nothing, basically. I appreciate what the staff have done and how much support they’ve put behind me as well.”

With 99 international’s under her belt Erceg says the best games for her are those against top ten nations.

“Anytime we play a top country, so Japan, Brazil or USA, is always good. You just relish it because you know you’re the underdog and you’re usually playing on their home field so you want to come in and put in a really good performance.

“It’s your time to show the world what you can do, how you’ve improved and be a little bit more of a threat when it comes to World Cups and Olympics.”

With a wealth of memories from her time spent in the Football Ferns set-up Erceg says just being part of that environment is one of the most lasting memories for her.

“It’s hard to just set aside one specific moment. It’s more of a long journey that’s sort of just happened,” she explains.

“The people you’re with – that’s probably the best memory. The places that you see, the experiences that you get to have playing the sport.

“I’ve been with these girls for the past four or five years so you get to know each other inside out. So rather than any single experience I think the most memorable thing is the experience itself.”

While she may be about to set the standard for footballers in New Zealand Erceg says that’s not really her focus right now.

“Coming here you tend to focus on the job we’ve got to do here. Obviously we want to qualify for the World Cup so I don’t think I’ll even really celebrate it until after the final match.

Does Erceg think New Zealand are in with a good chance of qualifying for their third consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup as the cherry on top of a stellar week of personal achievement for the captain?

She’s quietly confident.

“Obviously we’re developing every year and getting better but so are the teams here as well, they’ve got new coaches coming in and new players coming in.

“It’s hard for us to get footage of them as well so we don’t see these sides playing as much as perhaps the European teams we play, so it poses a different threat to us.

“It’s never something we can take lightly, we take everything seriously and obviously defending the title, we want to come back in and hopefully go back to the world stage.”

New Zealand open their OFC Women’s Nations Cup campaign this morning (Saturday 25 October) against Tonga at 11am.

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