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Football Ferns: Bunge completes player pathway

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

If evidence was sought for the productivity of the New Zealand Football player development pathway, then Claudia Bunge would be an ideal case to reference.

The defender has played for her country at both U-17 and U-20 level, is part of the Future Ferns Domestic Programme (FFDP) and stars in the National Women’s League, the tagline of which is ‘Where Football Ferns Are Made’.

Her call-up to the senior Football Ferns squad for a two-match tour of China this month completes that cycle and she is now hoping to make her debut in the early hours of Friday morning (NZT) against the hosts.

"Of course everyone who comes on these tours is hoping to get some game time and it would be really cool if I was given that opportunity," she says.

"I just have to put my best foot forward and do what I can to try and cement a place in the team. I’m hoping I get some game time but I’m here to learn and develop as much as I can as well."

The 20-year-old is in a perfect environment to do just that with several hugely experienced defenders to learn off in the Football Ferns camp in Yongchuan, Chongching City. While regular first choices Abby Erceg and Meikayla Moore are missing, the likes of captain Ali Riley, Ria Percival, Rebekah Stott and CJ Bott are all present and have a staggering 369 caps between them.

While Bunge is no stranger to touring with a national team after several campaigns at age-group level, the professionalism of the Ferns set-up has already been a learning curve.

"It is a bit different, I think the expectations here are a lot higher," she says.

"A lot of it is up to you in terms of how you spend your downtime whereas in youth teams it’s a lot more set. A lot more responsibility is placed on you in the Ferns environment and the expectations are a lot higher in terms of what you do, both on the field and off," she adds.

"It’s definitely a step up in terms of the intensity of the training. A lot of the girls are playing professionally overseas in leagues all across the world so it’s a step up from the U-20s but it’s good because that’s exactly what I need."

Bunge was ready to progress to a higher standard as she has shone domestically over a lengthy period of time and consistently impressed on the international age-group stage.

She credits much of her development to the time and resources that have been invested in her burgeoning talent, particularly the FFDP initiative. The aim of the FFDP is to help players progress to an international level and Bunge is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bott, Moore, Katie Rood and Victoria Esson in graduating from the programme to earn professional contracts.

"The FFDP programme coming in has been really beneficial for me and for all the other domestic players that are either still developing or are unable to go overseas and play professionally for other reasons," Bunge says.

"It’s just a really good way to get up to speed with how professional life would be if you were overseas. Having hard trainings and playing against boys just replicates what living overseas and playing in those professional leagues would look like. It’s a long season but the FFDP and the extension of the National Women’s League has really given players like myself a chance to develop quite rapidly."

The Northern Lights captain and all other players currently with the Football Ferns in China have a massive carrot dangling in front of them with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now looming large on the horizon.

Having already achieved one lifelong goal by being called up to the Ferns, Bunge is now setting her sights on another.

"Going to the Olympics would be a dream come true, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and hopefully I can put myself in the best position to be up for selection," she says.

Bunge and co will potentially get two chances to do so on the China tour, meeting the hosts early on Friday (NZT) before taking on either Brazil or Canada in a second match three days later. The game against China will be shown live on Sky Sport but there is no television coverage or live streaming of the second match.

Match Details

Brazil vs Canada

Thursday 7 November, 4pm (9pm NZT)

New Zealand vs China

Thursday 7 November, 7.30pm (Friday 8 November, 12.30am NZT)

Live on Sky Sport

Third place play-off

Sunday 10 November, 4pm (9pm NZT)


Sunday 10 November, 7.30pm (Monday 11 November, 12.30am NZT)

New Zealand (from): 1. Erin Nayler (GK), 2. Ria Percival, 4. CJ Bott, 5. Nicole Stratford, 6. Rebekah Stott, 7. Ali Riley (c), 9. Katie Rood, 10. Annalie Longo, 11. Sarah Gregorius, 12. Betsy Hassett, 13. Rosie White, 14. Katie Bowen, 15. Sarah Morton, 16. Hannah Blake, 17. Hannah Wilkinson, 18. Stephanie Skilton, 19. Paige Satchell, 20. Jana Radosavljevic, 21. Victoria Esson (GK), 22. Olivia Chance, 23. Lily Alfeld (GK), 24. Claudia Bunge

Coach: Tom Sermanni

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