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New Zealand marks 1 month to Women’s World Cup with match near Mount Cook

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New Zealand has marked the one month countdown to the start of the Women’s World Cup by creating a full-sized soccer pitch in the remote southern highlands of the South Island, in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki Mount Cook.

The 105-metre long, 68-metre wide pitch was built by hand on the tussocky plains of the McKenzie Country in front of the 3,724-meter (12,217-foot) mountain on which Sir Edmond Hillary trained for his successful assault on the summit of Mount Everest.

Two teams of local girls, named Pukaki and Tekapo after pristine alpine lakes nearby, were invited to play the first friendly match on the pitch on Tuesday, refereed by New Zealand Football National Referee Development Manager Lindsey Robinson.

“I came here today to referee the game in the most beautiful place on earth,” Robinson said. “Aside from the stunning landscape it was a great game of football.

“I’m incredibly excited about so many visitors coming to New Zealand to enjoy the game and enjoy this beautiful part of the world.”

A soccer pitch is seen just in front of huge mountains with snow on top.
The pitch was created over six weeks, adhering to strict environmental and sustainability principles with a philosophy of “tread lightly” ensuring the land could be returned to its natural state. (Brett Phibbs/Tourism New Zealand via The Associated Press)

Tourism New Zealand worked with local indigenous Maori and the Department of Conservation to ensure the project was executed in a way that respected mana whenua (the rights of New Zealand’s Indigenous people) and had no lasting impact on the land.

The pitch was created over six weeks, adhering to strict environmental and sustainability principles with a philosophy of “tread lightly” ensuring the land could be returned to its natural state.

The match between Pukaki and Tekapo ended in a 1-1 draw.

A group of young girls are seen in soccer uniforms walking on a pitch near some huge mountains with snow on top.
New Zealand and Australia are co-hosting the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off July 20 and features 32 teams. The final is set to be staged in Sydney on Aug. 20. (Brett Phibbs/Tourism New Zealand via The Associated Press)

Eight-year-old Immy Ivey was amazed she was able to play beneath Aoraki Mount Cook.

“It’s cool playing football in the mountains because when you score a goal, instead of just having plain grass, you can see the big mountains instead which is nice for a change,” Ivey said.

New Zealand and Australia are co-hosting the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off July 20 and features 32 teams. The final is set to be staged in Sydney on Aug. 20.

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