Kiwi players hope World Cup will leave lasting legacy in rugby-mad homeland

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The Women’s World Cup has drawn record crowds in co-host New Zealand, with early concerns about ticket sales in the small island nation that predominantly supports rugby long forgotten.

But will the tournament leave a lasting legacy on New Zealand after teams have packed up and camera lights been dimmed?

Ben Bate, head of women’s soccer at Auckland United, said clubs must play a role in getting more eyes on the sport, either in person or online.

“A lot of it is engagement from the clubs and the federation – I think that’s key,” Bate said. “The more we can get on TV … Obviously streaming is a great thing but having access to that and having the kids know where to find all those different leagues. So many different leagues. Knowing which one to find is a struggle at times.”

New Zealand will have hosted 29 matches over the course of the tournament, including the Football Ferns’ thrilling 1-0 victory over Norway, New Zealand’s first World Cup win in six appearances.

Spain’s 5-1 win over Switzerland in the last-16 drew 43,217 fans to Auckland’s Eden Park, the most fans to watch a soccer game – male or female – in the country.

Half of the tournament’s 32 teams were based in New Zealand, often sharing training facilities with local clubs.

“I think (women’s soccer) has a really bright future,” said Caleb Ward, interim women’s coach at Western Springs Association Football Club, who hosted Norway. “To see New Zealanders start to embrace it is really cool, and hopefully we get the knock-on effect of more people participating.”

Charlie Dunn, a centre-back for Western Springs, said she has to actively promote soccer to her friends.

“Especially girls’ football, you have to promote that a lot over boys football, rugby or something,” the 16-year-old said. “But I think most people are kind of getting more into the football because the World Cup’s been here. So, it’s developing more.”

New Zealand has only one professional team, the Wellington Phoenix Football Club who play in the Australian A-League. New Zealand’s top women play in Europe, the NWSL in the United States and on Australian pro teams.

Jess Philpot, a 24-year-old defender for Auckland United Football Club, sees money as the key to development.

“I think just continuing to invest in women’s football is going to do wonders,” she said.