Ali Riley Column: Fourth Time Unlucky, Dealing With Heartbreak and Coping With Cameroon

New Zealand captain Ali Riley is a columnist with 90min for the Women's World Cup in France this summer, where the Football Ferns were looking to secure the country's first World Cup win.

Hello from LA, a little sooner than I'd hoped. 

Man, I'm so glad there weren't any games on the day after we got knocked out. 

I was so heartbroken, and you have no time to decompress in France, sum up the tour and say goodbye – you're really forced to get out of town right away. We had the game, people were commiserating with their families, then at 8am the next morning we were on the train to Paris and everyone was flying off in different directions. 

I didn't have time to process anything until I was home in LA on Saturday, but looking back I really do think that we gave everything. It wasn't enough in the end, but it's a very different feeling than I had coming home after the last three times and a few of my Olympic experiences, where it felt like we didn't play to our potential, or if we'd played a different formation or, or, or...

Ali Riley

This time it really felt like it came down to precision – we didn't finish a couple of the chances we had, we got scored on from other teams doing something well, and that's football. I like that when we briefly had a meeting, our coach Tom Sermanni said he was frustrated, but proud of how we came back from the Canada game.

We performed a lot better, we tried to score, we had possession, and they only got their second goal at the end when we threw everyone forward. Then he said, "there's work to do between now and the Olympics, and we'll make history there."

All my teammates were texting like 'I can't fucking wait until next July,' 'nobody can retire, we have to do this!', and it's such a different feeling to coming back to LA after Canada four years ago. 

I really think we threw everything we had at these games football-wise, but Cameroon were good! They had those great chances, that's why this tournament is so good and so exciting. Taking a step back for some perspective, it's awesome that two African teams went through, and I hope that it's us next time.

I haven't seen Cameroon's game against England – it was the game we would've been playing in if we'd beaten them, it's just too raw – but when we played them we were prepared for them to be really physical. 

It felt like the ref in our game was a little lenient, I didn't really realise how beat up I'd gotten until I got off the plane – my body was a wreck, just from landing on the ground. Sarah Gregorius also just getting pushed in the back, hit in the back of the head – you can have a physical game, but it comes down to protecting the players. 

Maybe they're thinking about the fact that you can only get two cards before you miss a game and being careful not to spoil the later rounds, but if you set an example early you won't have to give a lot of cards.

Looking forward, I'm feeling energised and looking forward to the Olympics – and I'll definitely be watching the rest of the tournament now. It's so exciting, good teams are getting knocked out now just a couple of days after us. Australia were a top team with a lot of expectations, and they only lasted two days longer than us, this is what the World Cup's all about. 

The first day after Cameroon I was like 'I'm not going to watch any football, this sucks,' but I'm already I'm right back up for it. Even watching Norway and seeing Maria Thorisdottir and Maren Mjelde from Chelsea, it's just a great feeling to see your friends and teammates succeed. 

I still wish it was me, but I can appreciate watching some good football now. I've seen at least part of every game when we weren't playing or travelling. The standard has improved so much from just four years ago, this is exactly what we want to see. 

When we ask our federations and FIFA to invest in us, we get, "well if you have more fans and people watching, more media, we'd invest more". Obviously that's not how it should be, but I think we've done ourselves so proud, there's so much media attention.

I think more people watched the France women's team play their third group game than the men's team in Russia last year. It really shows that people are interested, and if this isn't going to make our federations and organisations pay attention, I don't know what will. The games, the individual skill, the organisation, the coaching, it's so much progress from four years ago and it's only going to get better.

And finally...well, we still don't have a World Cup win. I really thought that if we didn't achieve our goals, players would be more likely to retire – but we're so close to something, it's a different feeling this time. 

Me and Ria Percival, our other most senior player, didn't get to say goodbye to each other so we were texting and I was like 'well we can't end on that...'. The conversation went something like, 'Are you saying what I think you're saying?' 'Well we have to keep going, right?' 'Well if you are, I am'. We were committing to each other for the next cycle without actually saying the words. Bring it on, wherever it is. 

Source : 90min