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Former Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni hoping to invigorate New Zealand

Tom Sermanni to remain coach of New Zealand through 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

New Zealand coach Tom Sermanni gives directions to the players during the Women's World Cup Group E soccer match between Canada and New Zealand in Grenoble, France, Saturday, June 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

GRENOBLE – New Zealand may get eliminated from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup before the knockout round, but Tom Sermanni will still be the team’s head coach.

Sermanni, whose New Zealand squad dropped to 0-2-0 in Group E after Saturday night’s 2-0 loss to Canada in Grenoble, signed a contract extension to remain in charge of the team through the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The decision by New Zealand Football to retain Sermanni regardless of how the Ferns finish here in France was a significant one, particularly as it looks to establish some continuity for its women’s program, which fired Sermanni’s predecessor last summer.

“He came into the Football Ferns during a challenging period, but the team has made a huge amount of progress under his leadership,” said federation president Andrew Pragnell. “The Ferns have undertaken an important cultural rebuild, Tom and the support staff working really well with them, and as a result they have gone on to achieve some significant results at the world stage.”

Sermanni, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, took over New Zealand 43 days after he and the Orlando Pride mutually parted ways in September 2018. He started his new job by guiding the Ferns to a first-place finish in the OFC Women’s Cup and to a pair of victories in friendlies against England and Norway.

So far, the players have responded well to Sermanni’s personable nature, which has been a stark departure from their time with Austrian coach Andreas Heraf, who was fired last July after 13 players lodged complaints about his alleged bullying, intimidation,and creation of a culture of fear.

“Tom cares a lot about us, not only on the field but off it, which is what we need,” New Zealand midfielder Katie Bowen told Pro Soccer USA. “He’s very for the players, which is great. We haven’t always had that.”

Sermanni’s reputation proceeds him, both as an experienced tactician and affable person.

On Saturday, he congratulated some of his former players on Canada, who he coached as an assistant at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and shook hands with Canadian media after his post-game press conference, where he cracked a joke and heaped more praise on his old team.

Sermanni also coached Orlando for three seasons and led it to the playoffs once. He was in charge of the Australian women’s national team from 1994-96 and again from 2002-12 and led it to the quarterfinals of both the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cups. From 2013-14, Sermanni also guided the U.S. women’s national team, but was fired shortly after the Americans won only one game at the 2014 Algarve Cup.

In contrast, New Zealand has been to the Women’s World Cup five times but is nowhere near the level of the U.S., the reigning and three-time champions. And, as of Saturday night’s loss to Canada, the Ferns are still looking for their first World Cup win.

New Zealand can revive its fleeting chances of making the knockout round by beating Cameroon in its next game, but Sermanni is being cautiously optimistic.

“You’ve got to be practical and you’ve got to be realistic,” Sermanni said. “The days of going in and taking the paint off the wall as coach are over and not effective in our current situation.

“I want to be cautious because there’s a lot of good going on in the country, but talent identification is really critical. Once you do that, you’ve to be getting those players in a program that takes them to the next level.”

New Zealand showed some promise in its possession game in a 1-0 loss to the Netherlands to start the tournament, then some resilience on defense as it held Canada scoreless in the first half on Saturday in Grenoble, but Sermanni lamented the team’s lack of depth in comparison to other teams in the World Cup.

Injuries, in particular, have taken a toll on an already-thin player pool. The team is missing its first-choice center back, Meikayla Moore, who tore her Achilles in Le Havre two days before the tournament. On Saturday, Ferns defender Catherine Bott is suspected to have broken her wrist, which puts her at risk of not playing.

“Those kinds of things, when you have a team that doesn’t have the same depth as the bigger countries, that can really hurt you,” Sermanni said. “The key thing is just to regroup, refocus, get everybody healthy and then go into the next game.”

Sermanni has already earned praise from the players and coaching staff for turning around the team culture inside the Ferns’ locker room and could make more substantive changes to the New Zealand women’s program after the World Cup.

And though preparations for Tokyo will start as soon New Zealand is done at the World Cup, Sermanni’s team hasn’t been eliminated just yet. The team’s final group game is a do-or-die match on June 20 against Cameroon in Montpellier.

“He’s a great coach,” Bowen said. “Obviously, Saturday night was not our best performance and some coaches would ream you and dig into individuals, but that doesn’t help anyone. Tom is not that type of guy.

“He’s very cool, calm, and collected. In a situation like this, he’s encouraging us and telling us to keep our heads up. And that’s what we need.”

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