Victory’s Claudia Bunge faces finals pressure on New Zealand return

Melbourne Victory’s Claudia Bunge is focused on securing a top four spot for her club as she returns to her homeland, New Zealand in the final round of the season against Wellington Phoenix.

A win will secure a finals berth, and Bunge says her side is ready to leave everything on the pitch to ensure that happens.

“I think they’re (Wellington) starting to gel well together as a team, and obviously they knocked off Sydney,” Bunge said.

“They’ve put in some really strong performances, so it’s definitely not going to be an easy game for us and we know that.

“It’s a massive week for us and we’re working really hard on the training pitch to leave no stone unturned.”

She said the pressure that came along with needing to win was a privilege.

“We’re going to take that on board and it’s an area where we’re used to performing,” she said.

“I think we’ve got a couple of older girls and some of the girls have been together a while so we’re gonna lean on each other a lot this week and hopefully our experience can shine through.”

The experience extends to the centre back partnership between Bunge and captain Kayla Morrison, which reunited this season following Morrison’s return from an ACL injury.

Bunge was full of praise for the American.

“She’s a massive player for our team,” she said.

“Playing next to her is fantastic; she and I are often on the same wavelength and I think for a centre back pairing that’s something you really need and it can take time to develop.

“We push each other a lot … she’s having a great season, she and I will definitely be looking at hopefully keeping a clean sheet this week.”

New Zealand has been a hotbed of defensive talent, with Bunge adding to a growing list of classy players including Abby Erceg and Ria Percival.

“It’s kind of that Kiwi mentality, you just roll up your sleeves and get the job done,” Bunge said.

“It’s really cool. I think we make each other better, because there’s so much competition. Whether we’re playing a back three, back four or five, spots are pretty limited.”

Bunge was excited about having a World Cup in two countries she has special connections with, saying Australia had become her second home.

“It’s exciting for both countries and I think it’s going to be fantastic,” she said.

“It will be really interesting to see the growth of women’s football after the World Cup and what happens after will be interesting.

“I think everyone’s starting to get really pumped for it.”

Originally from Auckland, Bunge said the prospect of a proposed second New Zealand team in the A-Leagues in her home town was really exciting.

“Every time the Phoenix go up and play in Auckland, they always get a really good crowd,” she said.

“The competition up there’s really decent and there’s a lot of players in Auckland so I think it’s really exciting.”

Her road from Auckland to Melbourne Victory was one given a nudge by former Matildas and White Ferns’ coach Tom Sermanni.

“Tom Sermanni, the (Ferns’) coach at the time basically said, if you want to give football a good crack and be the best you can be, you need to go overseas,” Bunge said.

“I knew that from a young age, it’s always something I’ve wanted to do (play pro overseas). So through Gareth Turnbull, who’s assistant coach, he was also my age group coach, he started the conversation between Jeff [Hopkins] and I.

“I had maybe two phone calls with Jeff and it went really well. And I’ve been here ever since. I love the club, I love the girls. There’s a few of us that have been here for two or three seasons now, I couldn’t not come back.”