Australia’s Matildas survived a goal-line clearance and their woodwork being rattled twice to earn a 2-0 victory over New Zealand’s Football Ferns at WIN Stadium on 27 June, as the beaten side continued their preparations for the 2012 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament.
A brace of Sarah Walsh goals either side of half-time settled the contest in the home team’s favour, with the first of them, on the half-hour, coming a tad against the run of play to that point.
The Football Ferns had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with Emma Kete particularly prominent in their early attacks, while the pace of Sarah Gregorius was frequently a thorn in Australia’s side.
The sight of Anna Green only being denied a goal on her fiftieth appearance for her country by the width of a post in the 27th minute well and truly had the alarm bells ringing in the Matildas’ ranks, but Gregorius failed to do justice to the rebound, and three minutes later, her profligacy was punished.
The multi-talented Elysse Perry - she represents Australia in cricket as well as football - whipped in a cross which the diminutive Sarah Walsh headed home past Rebecca Rolls to give the Matildas the lead.
The goal initially stunned the Football Ferns, and their nemesis weren’t slow in looking to take full advantage, Caitlin Foord particularly prominent as Australia sought a second goal before the interval.
Instead, they ended up being fortunate to head to the dressing rooms a goal to the good, as the Olympics-bound Kiwis quickly rediscovered their attacking impetus, with Gregorius and Kete both going close before a combination of the woodwork and dubious officiating came to Australia’s rescue yet again.
Amber Hearn was picked out by a cross, but despite beating Melissa Barbieri all ends up, the post proved to be the Matildas’ twelfth man once again. Kete looked to turn home the rebound, but Danielle Brogan’s intervention proved decisive, although its legality was decidedly doubtful - a clear advantage was gained when ball and hand briefly came into contact in the penalty area, but nothing was given.
After Green had gone close in the early stages of the second half, Walsh doubled the Matildas’ lead in the 57th minute, capitalising on a blunder in New Zealand’s defensive third to race on and ram a shot across Rolls into the bottom far corner of the net - 2-0.
That goal gave Australia the comfort cushion they wanted, but after half-time substitute Catherine Cannuli had twice gone close - on the second occasion, with a free-kick six minutes from time, the Football Ferns were again desperately unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.
New Zealand’s most capped international, Hayley Moorwood, had been introduced to the fray with twenty minutes to go in a bid to continue her rich
vein of goalscoring form on the world stage, and she was only denied from doing so by a goal-line clearance five minutes from time, debutant Nicola Bolger ensuring the midfielder’s header wouldn’t afford the Football Ferns a late lifeline.
Football Ferns coach Tony Readings was philosophical after watching his team’s record-equalling nine-match unbeaten run come to an end, as the Matildas recorded their 23rd win in their last 24 encounters with their trans-tasman rivals. “This was our final game prior to announcing the squad which will go to the Olympics.
“While we wanted to win, as we do every game we play, it was a match which allowed us to make sure we’re picking the team we think will be the best with that objective in mind.
“The eighteen-strong squad for the Olympics is largely clear in my mind, now. We just need to get some clarifications from the medical team on a few issues before making the announcement on Friday afternoon”.
The Football Ferns’ all-round performance on Wednesday was every bit as good as the one they produced three days earlier, which earned them their first result against Australia since October 1994. But there’s one area in which they were found wanting.
“We created chances galore during the match itself”, said Readings, “but didn’t take them, and at this level, and particularly at the Olympics, we really need to take the opportunities we create. This game re-enforced that”.
Betsy Hassett, Annalie Longo and Rebecca Smith were the stand-out players in New Zealand’s latest performance, with two more matches to be played prior to the much-anticipated clash with Great Britain, which will open the action at London 2012.
“We’ll be playing fellow Olympics contenders Canada and Columbia at the Matchworld Cup in Switzerland before heading to the UK”, says Readings. “It’s fantastic for us to play two top quality games at that stage of our preparations”, the first of which will see New Zealand’s coach pitting his wits against his predecessor as Football Ferns coach, John Herdman.
The Canadian clash takes place in Chalet St. Denis at 2am on July 15, NZ time, with the Columbian encounter scheduled seventy-two hours later in Saviese. Both matches are the first in a double-header at each venue, with one of New Zealand’s Olympics rivals, Brazil, the other contenders in the four-team tournament.
Matildas: Barbieri; Brogan, Slatyer (Alleway, 64), Perry (Cooper, 85), Catley; Rollason (Yeoman-Dale, 64), Kennedy (Bolger, 85), Allen (Canulli, 46); Foord, Walsh (Raso, 64), Brown
Football Ferns: Rolls; Stott (Patterson, 83 (booked, 83)), Smith, Hill, Green (Percival, 61); Hassett (Moorwood, 70), Hoyle (booked, 14), Hearn, Longo (Bowen, 84); Gregorius, Kete (Wilkinson, 46)