The Football Ferns booked their place at the 2012 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament in emphatic fashion at the Port Moresby Rugby League Stadium on April 4, completing a 15-0 aggregate rout of Papua New Guinea by mauling the locals 7-0 in the second leg of the Oceania Football Confederation’s qualifying tie.
Despite having all but wrapped up the contest in the first leg, the visitors, sporting eight changes to the line-up which started in Whangarei, set about the task of confirming their place in the April 24 draw with a vengeance, Abby Erceg, Hannah Wilkinson and Sarah Gregorius all going close inside the first eleven minutes.
Two minutes later, captain for the day Hayley Moorwood tapped in on the far post to start the rout, but the Papuans threatened an equaliser seven minutes later, only for Rebecca Rolls to save at the feet of Georgina Kaikas as the striker held off the challenge of Hannah Bromley, whose last appearance on the world stage came in the 2008 Olympic Qualifying play-off in Lae four years ago.
Rosie White, who had scored goals for fun against the Papuans in her last two outings against them, was only denied by goalkeeper Linda Bunaga in the 27th minute, but five minutes later the Football Ferns were celebrating again courtesy Sarah Gregorius, who headed home Anna Green’s corner.
Both White and Gregorius were thwarted by Bunaga in the next few minutes, but the ‘keeper stood not a prayer when Wilkinson curled home a sumptuous 37th minute effort to make it 3-0.
A fourth goal followed five minutes later, with the locals putting through their own net as a Betsy Hassett cross caused havoc at the business end of another Football Ferns raid.
Green and White both warmed Bunaga’s gloves before the interval, but the former’s penchant for scoring direct from corners provided the visitors with reason aplenty to celebrate their fifth goal of the game, four minutes into the second spell.
Gregorius was only prevented from getting on the end of a Wilkinson cross by Kathrina Salaiau’s desperate defending soon after, while Green was forced to fulfil her defensive duties ten minutes into the second half, Papuan substitute Fatima Rama thwarted by the fullback’s timely challenge.
Twenty minutes from time, Hassett added her name to the list of scorers with a shot which proved too hot for Bunaga to handle. The ‘keeper made amends to deny the markswoman eleven minutes later, but was powerless to prevent Gregorius ramming home a penalty six minutes from time after Hassett had been felled by Salaiau.
Substitute Kirsty Yallop, Erceg and Hassett - her effort was cleared off the line by Linah Honeakii in the dying minutes - went close to seeing the Football Ferns repeat the first leg scoreline, but Oceania’s well-travelled champions were more than satisfied with a 7-0 rout, as it confirmed their place among the elite at London 2012.
Rosie White congratulates Hayley Moorwood on opening the scoring - photo courtesy OFC Media
Coach Tony Readings was delighted after the victory, and rightly so. “It was a very pleasing performance - I’m really proud of the way the girls played. We kept pushing for the whole game, and emerged a better team after this two-legged fixture than we did prior to the start of the contest. I couldn’t ask for anything more of them”.
One of the really pleasing features of the Football Ferns’ triumph was the way they coped in challenging conditions. “The bumpy surface was a stark contrast to the bowling green-like pitch we played on in Whangarei, and made it a lot harder to play our brand of football”, said Readings afterwards.
“But the girls adapted well, and their ball retention was a big positive, not only in terms of our game, but in dealing with the heat - and it was very hot! We’ve got a really good medical team, however, and the work they’ve done with the players helped minimise the risk and impact of the sultry conditions”.
Abby Erceg earned praise for her “world class range of passing” from Readings, who was keen to single out the performances of two other players. “Holly Patterson started her first game for us today, wasn’t overawed and delivered plenty of quality crosses.
“And Katie Hoyle, who we took off early in the second half to allow us to look at a few options, also shone. Her standards are so professional, in every minute of every game”.
Hoyle and her European-based Football Ferns’ team-mates now head back to their various homes away from home for the remainder of the European season, during which time Readings will have a few decisions to make as he finalises his squad for London 2012, and, like all of us, discovers the teams whose downfalls he’ll be plotting, and the venues the Football Ferns will be playing at during the Olympics.
The squad will reassemble in Auckland in June, by which time negotiations should have been concluded regarding matches against both China and Australia, one of which is planned to take place in New Zealand.
Following those fixtures, the Football Ferns will head to Switzerland again to contest the Matchworld Cup, after which they’ll join Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Columbia, France, Japan, North Korea, South Africa, Sweden, the USA and host nation Great Britain in pursuit of gold at the Olympics.
“There’s still a lot of work to do”, says Readings, “and a lot of games to be played. But overall, our progress so far this year - the USA tour, our unbeaten Cyprus Cup efforts and this qualifying series - has been excellent”.
Papua New Guinea: Bunaga; Gerota, Salaiau, Honeakii, Norie; Birum (Morris, 38), Siniu, Winas, Tsuga (Rama, 53), B. Muta; Kaikas (E. Muta, 44)
Football Ferns: Rolls; Patterson, Bromley, Erceg, Green (Riley, 79); Moorwood, Hoyle (Percival, 53), White, Hassett; Wilkinson (Yallop, 60), Gregorius
Referee: Norbert Hauata (Tahiti)