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Ferns Head To Games On Winning Note
by Jeremy Ruane
Two goals in first half stoppage time saw the Football Ferns wrap up their preparations for the 2012 Olympic Womenís Football Tournament with an encouraging 2-1 victory over Colombia in their final Matchworld Womenís Cup encounter at the Stade St. Germain in Saviese.

There was little to choose between the teams in the early stages of the match, but gradually the Football Ferns began to get on top of proceedings, first threatening through Annalie Longo in the sixteenth minute.

Abby Erceg gave the ball away outside her penalty area three minutes later, forcing Jenny Bindon to dash off her line and clear a Yoreli Rincon pass intended for Melissa Ortiz. It was the only time the Colombians threatened New Zealandís goal until well into the second half.

By which time the Football Ferns were in cruise control on a hot day in Saviese. Their first chance on target materialised in the 29th minute, when Rincon found herself surrounded by three white-clad opponents.

Betsy Hassett relieved her of the ball and played it into the stride of Rosie White, who unleashed a firecracker which brought the best out of Stefany Castano, Colombiaís goalkeeper.

She was called upon again two minutes later to deal with Amber Hearnís twenty-five yard free-kick, while Sarah Gregorius was thwarted by Castano in the 33rd minute as she dashed through onto a stray pass back towards the goalkeeper.

Castano was woefully at fault for the Football Fernsí goals, both of which were scored in first half stoppage time. The first saw Erceg send Anna Green down the left, with the fullbackís cross picking out White.

She lobbed the ball up for Hearn to direct a looping header over the flapping custodian, the sphere dropping neatly under the bar to the delight of New Zealandís most prolific markswoman.

While the Colombians were still reeling from that blow, the Football Ferns struck again with virtually the last touch of the ball in the half. Ria Percivalís free-kick was flicked on by Hearn to Rebecca Smith, lurking behind her.

The Football Fernsí captain - Smith has now skippered her country in 41 ďAĒ internationals, the most by any of New Zealandís seventeen armband wearers - flicked the ball over her head, and over Castano, who looked on in horror as it dropped neatly into the net - 2-0.

Castano paid the price for those blunders by being substituted, but why her replacement, Sandra Sepulveda, wasnít ready to begin the second spell defied logic - cue the bizarre sight of the goalkeeper being substituted in the 47th minute.

New Zealand made two changes at the break, and both made an immediate impact. Hayley Moorwood, earning her 82nd cap - no New Zealander has represented the country more often in ďAĒ internationals - ignited a 48th minute move which saw Hassett and Hearn play a slick one-two.

Hassettís angled ball to Longo allowed the midfielder to play in Hannah Wilkinson, who should have done better - a poor finish which gave Sepulveda an introduction to the match which was far less preferable than that preferred, i.e. fishing the ball out of the back of her net!

A stumble by Smith in the 52nd minute was akin to a crumb from the rich manís table, as far as Colombia was concerned. Ingrid Vidal duly pounced on the ball, and looked to play in Melissa Ortiz, but Erceg afforded the striker some ďstrong
arm" treatment which left the Colombians asking for a penalty as Bindon cleared the ball up-field.

It would not have surprised had the officials given the spot-kick, mind, given the frequency with which they interrupted the flow of play in the interests of the pedantic! Things were to get worse in the near future, in this regard, as a flurry of substitutions further disrupted the pattern of play.

They certainly disrupted the Football Fernsí flow in the final twenty-five minutes, prior to which they frequently threatened to build on their two-goal advantage. Hearnís persistence won her the ball in the 57th minute, and she laid the ball off to Wilkinson before dashing down-field.

The substitute roamed down the left before checking inside and crossing to the unmarked figure of Hearn, who directed a flying header wide of Sepulvedaís left-hand post.

It was the Ďkeeperís right-hand post which came under threat three minutes later, Moorwood sparking off another enterprising move which featured Hassett, Percival and Gregorius, who picked out Hearn with a lovely cross to the far post. The strikerís downward header bounced the wrong side of the upright.

After Moorwood had fired a dipping twenty-five yarder a yard over the bar, Sepulveda produced a super save at close quarters to deny Hearn, who had been picked out by Gregoriusí near post cross which invited an instinctive first-time shot at goal.

The resulting corner was cleared to Wilkinson, who picked out Gregorius with her cross. She laid the ball back to Hassett, whose low angled drive skimmed the far post, with Erceg a stride away from turning it home.

The Football Ferns eased right off after this, and didnít threaten Colombiaís goal again throughout the remainder of the match. Consequently, the South Americans grew into the game, and passes which had gone astray earlier in the game were now beginning to stick.

Their best move came twenty minutes from time, and saw a delightful interchange unfold involving Aya Montoya, Catalina Usme, Orianica Velasquez and Tatiana Ariza, whose cross invited Usme to fire a twenty-yarder narrowly past Bindonís right-hand post.

The warning wasnít heeded by the Kiwis, and four minutes from time, they conceded a goal which gave the Colombians hope of salvaging something from a game in which they had been a distinct second-best in all departments.

Nataly Arias fired in a cross from the right which found Montoya homing in on the far post. Her header ricocheted off Bindon into the goalmouth, where substitute Liana Salazar was on hand to gleefully ram the ball into the roof of the net and bring about the final 2-1 scoreline.

This was a much improved performance by the Football Ferns - it had to be, when compared with their uncharacteristically flat effort against Canada three days prior. And itís one from which they will take many positives as they head to the Olympic Village before opening the Olympic Games in eight daysí time against Great Britain.

Colombia: Castano (Sepulveda, 47); Dominguez, Gaitan (Peduzine, 62), Arias (Andrade, 89), N. Ariza; T. Ariza (Salazar, 71), Rincon, Montoya (booked, 29), Montoya; Ortiz (Usme, 58), Vidal (Velasquez, 68)
Football Ferns: Bindon; Percival, Smith (Hill, 81), Erceg, Green (Stott, 68); Hassett, Hearn, Hoyle (booked, 12) (Moorwood, 46), Longo (Yallop, 71); Gregorius, White (Wilkinson, 46)

London 2012