“We’re really happy obviously. We came here with one real reason and that was to win these qualifiers and book our tickets to Canada,” an elated Tony Readings says.
“We’ve done that now and we’re always sort of looking ahead so we can’t wait for the next part of the journey.”
With two big internationals against France and Norway in November and the Cyprus Cup in March, the Football Ferns have a busy schedule ahead of them as they build up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June.
“I think we’ve done a lot of good work this week on and off the pitch to just keep ourselves on track and true to what we need to be doing when we reach the World Cup.
“For us we’re going to be having regular games now almost every month from November all the way through to the World Cup so we’re going to be able to see the players a lot more than we’re used which is going to be great.
“The team just keeps getting better and better which is great, and the thing is that there’s a whole lot of potential yet to be realised so we’re just going keep working hard on realising that – because when we do we’re going to be even more of a force.”
Having more or less secured their place at the World Cup finals with two previous victories, New Zealand were leaving nothing to chance in their final match as they sought to seal the deal.
It took just 12 minutes for the Football Ferns to get the scoring underway with Helen Collins putting in a bid for the tournament’s Golden Boot. Ferns captain Abby Erceg then got her first of the tournament when she got on the end of a corner at the far post. Amber Hearn then put her name on her fourth of the competition with a tidy header past Cook Islands keeper Imelda Vakai in the 19th minute. Collins added her second of the afternoon when she tapped in the rebound a minute later after Rosie White’s initial attempt was denied by the keeper.
The Cook Islands adopted a similar structure to that of Papua New Guinea two days earlier, with a five-player back line and a deep lying midfield, which at times worked well under the constant pressure from the quick, accurate Kiwis.
They held them out for the next 20 minutes but tiring under the unrelenting attacks from all over the park, the Football Ferns were able to add a fifth. It was Ria Percival hitting the mark this time with a long range effort finding the gap between Vakai and her post. The sixth goal came when Percival cut in from the left and Lee Maoate-Cox, who had been flawless up until this point, mistimed her clearance allowing Rosie White to fire home.
Two minutes after the break and New Zealand were again on the score sheet as Hearn fired low, beating a diving Vakai at the back post. A Hearn-Percival one-two up the right set up Rebekah Stott who blasted in a volley in the 54th minute before Hearn received from Percival and popped the ball in the goal from inside the penalty area.
Hearn then left it for Betsy Hassett to finish after a tidy succession of passes in the 75th minute before she sealed the deal in the 86th minute adding an 11th goal for New Zealand when she found herself in the right place to finish four minutes from time.
Cook Islands coach Jimmy Katoa knew it would be a hard task for his side to overturn the Football Ferns, but commended the non-stop efforts of his players against their lofty opponents.
“I’m pleased with the effort, everyone put in a good amount of work out there. I thought we let ourselves down with some of our clearances – we talked about keeping possession of the ball.
“There was one period there especially in the first half, we held them out for 19 minutes and we wanted to continue that. Obviously it was just lack of concentration just cost us there,” Katoa rues.
“The main area that let us down and allowed so many goals was our clearance, we were just giving it straight back to them and letting them attack. Against a quality team you don’t want to do that.”
One objective Readings had for this tournament was for his side to work on their finishing – which he says can still be worked on despite putting 11 past the Cook Islands today and 16 past Tonga earlier in the competition.
“It can always be better. There was a lot but, there could have been some more,” he says.
“We’re happy to score as many as we did but definitely an area we still need to be working on.”
In the final match of the competition Papua New Guinea were out to secure second place while Tonga hoped to lift themselves off the bottom of the standings, with Papua New Guinea eventually coming out on top with a 3-0 victory.
The game got off to a fairly even start though Papua New Guinea had the majority of clear chances in the first 20 minutes. For their part, Tonga came out with a renewed energy to add further goals to their tally, pressing high on the Papua New Guinea defence in the hope of forcing an error.
They did well and were able to trouble Papua New Guinea keeper Fidelma Watpore on occasion but it was the hosts who were able to open their account first. A foul in the box saw referee Tupou Patia point to the spot, and Meagen Gunemba wasted no time putting it past keeper Lupe Likiliki.
After giving so much ahead of the goal, Tonga appeared to lose their way somewhat and Papua New Guinea were able to capitalise in the 32nd minute when Marie Kaipu displayed some individual brilliance before firing past Likiliki.
Tonga kept their hosts at bay until the break and continued to take the opportunity to search for a goal of their own when the second half got back underway. A lot of hard work from Ofa La’akulu at the back saw the ball feed through to Penateti Feke and and Unaloto Tahitu’a, who at times were unlucky not to better test Fidelma Watpore between the posts for Papua New Guinea.
The second-half scoring drought was finally broken in the 62nd minute when Kaipu blasted in a shot for her brace.
Tonga refused to give up and made some great advances but seemed to constantly be stopped short by the organised defence, led nobly by captain Deslyn Siniu. In the end the task proved too tough for the Tongans as they were denied even a consolation goal.
Captain Penateti Feke was pleased with her side’s final performance, but disappointed not to get results that better reflected their efforts on the park.
“Towards the end we did a great job in the game against PNG. Our first game wasn’t good but in the end we came up well even though we lost the game.
“I guess everyone was tired because it was the third match is one way of summing it up.”
The Pacific Games in 2015 are on the horizon and Feke is confident the team can bounce back strongly for that competition.
“Even though we didn’t make it in this competition, the girls learned a lot, especially against these other three top teams in Oceania. Between now and the games next year we will improve a lot.”
Pleased to get one last win and secure that second place spot in the standings was Papua New Guinea coach Gary Phillips.
“It’s been a great learning opportunity for the girls. Their commitment to learning was fantastic, obviously a very tired and fatigued performance today, but hopefully a lot to learn from it and a base to work from.
“Hopefully after this we get better and the education continues. We need to take the lessons we’ve learned out of this tournament and hopefully take our game to another level,” he says.
In the OFC Women’s Nations Cup individual awards New Zealand striker Amber Hearn secured the Golden Boot with seven goals over the three matches. The Golden Ball for most outstanding player of the tournament went to Rosie White, also from New Zealand. The Golden Glove for outstanding goalkeeper was awarded to Papua New Guinea’s Fidelma Watpore while the Fairplay Award went to team Tonga.
The OFC Women’s Nations Cup was held from 25-29 October at Kalabond Oval in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea.