With less than three months until their opening Olympic match against Australia in Tokyo, the Football Ferns face an uncertain road to the tournament where they will play in the pool of death.
By Finlay Dunseath for rnz.co.nz
The Fern's best result at the Olympic Games came at London 2012 when they reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by the USA.
Tasked with taking on world champions the USA, fifth-ranked Sweden and Trans-Tasman rivals Australia in Group G, the World No. 22 ranked Ferns face a battle to make it out of their group this year.
But with just three groups in the competiton, Football Fern's head coach, Tom Sermanni, is bullish about his side's prospects.
"It's fantastic, it's a great gauge for us to see where our team is at in comparison to some of the best teams in the world it's like anything if you want to play in elite competition you have to play against the best," he said.
To make matters tougher for the Fern's, travel complications are expected to disrupt the team's preparations with Sermanni not expecting to have a complete squad together until the team arrives in Tokyo.
"We'll get some of our squad together but the reality is we've got players playing in North America and Northern Europe and their seasons actually run through the New Zealand Winter so we won't actually have access to a fair number of our players until we actually get to Tokyo," he said.
Players still competing in overseas leagues include the likes of the experienced Ria Percival, Betsy Hassett and captain Ali Riley.
Sermanni said they're aiming to have as many players back in New Zealand as possible by the end of next month with the hope of resuming training in early June.
There had been talks around playing a warm-up match against Australia's Matildas but it's unlikely to eventuate now that both sides have been drawn in the same group.
With Australia their closest ranked team in Group G, the Fern's coach believes they have a real chance to upset the Matildas in Tokyo.
"It's like anything between New Zealand and Australia you have that local derby feel about it, the connection between the two countries and the two groups of players is really close but the rivalry and the competition is fierce," he said, "It's one of those games where you really want to win and being a local derby results are often unpredictable so it's a game we feel that we'll get a really good chance."
Group G is set to be something of a reunion for Sermanni who has previously managed both the USA and Australia.
While he may have learnt a thing or two from his now-rivals he said it doesn't give him any significant advantage when it comes to game day.
"I've got fond memories of coaching both of those teams, the players and the staff so it'll just be like every other game the only difference will be I'll have a much better knowledge of the 22 players on the field and the staffs on the various benches," he said.
Heading into an Olympic Games backdropped by a global pandemic, Sermanni believes the long-term friendships and bonds that exist within the Fern's squad will be an advantage in strange circumstances.
"The good thing we've got is a core group of players that have played together for a very long time, they get along really well so when we come together as a team there's not so much of a need to get players bonding," he said.
"That's one of the advantages we have over many of the other teams, I think that's one of the things that could really help us when we go to the Olympics because we do have a lack of actual football preparation."
Unfortunately, the Fern's will be missing key squad member Rebekah Stott at this Olympic's after she was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkins Lymphoma in February.
The 71-cap international is one of the team's most-experienced players and had been playing for Brighton and Hove Albion in the English Women's Super League before she received her diagnosis.
"It was a real blow, the players were devestated when Stotty broke that news to them," Sermanni said, "From a playing perspective she's such an important player for us not only her versatility and her consistent performances but also her character and personality off the field, she'll be greatly missed on and off the pitch."