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Football Ferns Fall To Physical Canadians
by Jeremy Ruane
New Zealandís Football Ferns were outplayed by a physical Canadian combination in the opening game of the 2012 Matchworld Cup in Chatel St. Denis, Switzerland, on 14 July, going down 2-0 in a game which saw the victors pick up four yellow cards.

It was a disappointing display from the Oceania champions just eleven days out from playing in the very first sporting contest of the 2012 Olympic Games, but of greater concern will be the injury suffered by Ali Riley, who was sent flying by a scything Robin Gayle tackle fifteen minutes from time, and was in considerable pain immediately afterwards.

The prospect of taking on Great Britain, Brazil and Cameroon without one of their brightest stars is one the Football Ferns will not welcome, and Rileyís medical reports will be eagerly anticipated right up until the start of the Olympic Womenís Football Tournament, and beyond.

In a match played on a dry pitch which made ball control challenging for both teams, there were few opportunities for either side to catch the eye in the opening half-hour. Canada were first to threaten through Sophie Schmidt, whose eighth minute free-kick curled round the wall and narrowly past the far post.

Three minutes later, Abby Ercegís vital headed clearance prevented a Melissa Tancredi cross from reaching the head of Schmidt, who was homing in on the far post, poised to strike.

The Football Fernsí response was the closest either team came to altering the scoreline in the opening third of the match. Ria Percivalís low corner into the goalmouth was well anticipated by Amber Hearn, whose snapshot volley on the turn rattled the crossbar before Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc had a chance to react.

The Canadiansí retort saw them opening the scoring on the half-hour. A stray Kirsty Yallop pass in the centre circle was pounced on by Diana Matheson, who quickly worked the ball to Christine Sinclair.

As she brought Schmidt into play, Mathieson was dashing in behind the New Zealand midfield, and duly received a pass into her stride which allowed her to bisect Erceg and Rebecca Smith with her angled run before delightfully chipping home over the advancing Jenny Bindon from twenty yards - 1-0 Canada, in well-taken fashion.

Canadaís coach is former Football Ferns mentor, John Herdman, and his game-plan basically didnít allow his old team to play. The Canadians stifled New Zealandís midfield, meaning the Kiwis had to resort to their old stand-by of lofted balls forward, too many of which lacked accuracy.

So once they had gone a goal behind, the Football Ferns were in need of a ďPlan BĒ to get back into the match - either that or a set-piece, which, given Canadaís penchant for the sort of rugged physicality one tends to associate with menís football, was not out of the question.

They engineered nothing in the way of a response before half-time, by which time they were fortunate not to be two goals down. Jenny Bindon raced out to clear off the toes of Sinclair in the 43rd minute, after Desiree Scott had got the better of Hayley Moorwood as she sought to bring a lofted cross-
field ball from Erceg under control.

Seconds later, Sinclair rattled the Football Ferns crossbar with a thumping drive, as the Canadians hemmed in their opponents following the throw-in arising from Bindonís clearance.

Canada were quickly into their stride in the second half, with Tancredi firing over the top after a Sinclair-led counter-attack which saw the striker forced away from goal by Erceg in the 47th minute.

Within sixty seconds, the Football Ferns found themselves two goals down. Yallop was stripped of possession by Tancredi on half-way, and she instantly fed Sinclair, who worked a slick one-two with Schmidt before dashing into the penalty area and expertly steering her 136th goal for Canada across the diving figure of Bindon and in by the far post - 2-0.

Even at this point, you sensed there was no way back for the Football Ferns in this encounter, although they certainly attempted to get back into the contest, initially on the hour.

Sarah Gregorius spurned a glorious chance to halve the deficit when shooting straight at LeBlanc, after Rebecca Smith, Betsy Hassett and Hearn had combined to send the speedster dashing through the inside-right channel.

Four minutes later, Annalie Longo rattled the crossbar with her first touch of the game after coming on as a substitute for Yallop, seconds after Bindon had been forced to save from Mathieson, who had intercepted a ball forward by Smith before working an opening with Sinclair.

Following these attacks, Canada started using foul means, rather than skilful ones, to keep the Football Ferns at armís length. By the far the worst of these came fifteen minutes from time, when substitute Robin Gayle mowed down Riley on half-way with a particularly nasty challenge which instantly left the fullback nursing an ankle injury and in a race against time with the Olympics fast approaching.

The offender was rightly booked for her cynical challenge, and came close to earning a second yellow card nine minutes later when thwarting Gregorius with a vital tackle as the striker shaped to shoot on entering the penalty area - a split second either way with her challenge, and the Football Ferns would have been facing ten players for the remaining minutes of the match, as well as lining up a penalty.

But they were facing eleven players, and kept plugging away in the final minutes in the hope that they could muster a revival with a late goal. Smith, Anna Green, Rosie White and Gregorius all failed to hit the target in the time remaining, however, leaving Canada to celebrate a 2-0 victory over opponents who can play much better than they were allowed to on this occasion.

Canada: LeBlanc (booked, 89); Wilkinson (Gayle, 58 (booked, 75)), Chapman, Moscato, Sesselmann (Stewart, 61); Mathieson (Timko, 79), Schmidt, Kyle (Parker, 61), Scott; Sinclair (Julien, 87 (booked, 88), Tancredi (booked, 50) (Filigno, 71)
Football Ferns: Bindon; Percival, Smith, Erceg, Riley (Green, 75); Moorwood (Hassett, 46), Hoyle, Hearn, Yallop (Longo, 62); Gregorius, Wilkinson (White, 77)

London 2012