The New Zealand Football Ferns’ search for a first ever win at the FIFA Women’s World Cup is still ongoing but they will feel it is just around the corner after falling 1-0 to the Netherlands in heart-breaking fashion early this morning (NZT).
New Zealand had earned only three draws from their excursions at previous World Cups and appeared on track for a fourth as the clock ticked into injury time at a sunny Stade Océane in Le Havre. But the classy Dutch had other ideas, finally breaking the deadlock when substitute Jill Roord headed home in one of the last plays of the game.
It was cruel on the Oceania champions, who did not enjoy as much of the ball as their highly-fancied opponents but – led by commanding performances from goalkeeper Erin Nayler and the centre back pairing of Abby Erceg and Rebekah Stott – defended resolutely and could well have taken all three points with more fortune in front of goal.
Frustratingly, they were instead forced to kick-off their campaign with nothing but will take great confidence into their next game against Canada after pushing the European champions all the way.
“I was happy with the performance right throughout the game,” coach Tom Sermanni said.
“I thought we were courageous, battled hard and were unbelievably disciplined.
“We gave everything we could give and tactically the players did everything we asked of them.
It’s a bit heart-breaking but that’s football.”
The encounter may have unfolded in a different manner had an outstanding effort from Olivia Chance snuck in instead of striking the cross bar early on while Rosie White also went close just past the half-hour mark.
Sarah Gregorius raced onto a Ria Percival pass and teed up White, who couldn’t have hit her long-range effort any better but could only look on as it was tipped around the post.
The Netherlands will also feel they could have been in front by the break after dominating several of the first-half statistics but were lucky not to fall behind early in the second period.
A pair of chances came the way of Gregorius in a matter of seconds, the striker firstly not quite managing to reach a Chance cross and then regathering to connect with Betsy Hassett’s return delivery but not making clean contact as Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal pulled off an athletic save.
With the Ferns defence doing well to contain the much-vaunted Dutch front three of Lieke Martens, Shanice Van De Sanden and Vivianne Miedema, New Zealand looked on track for a memorable point before Roord’s late intervention.
“The players will be absolutely devastated but we’re a resilient group and I’m pretty confident we’ll bounce back,” Sermanni said.
“We came up against one of the best teams in the world who have a chance to win this tournament and I think we went shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
We can go away with a lot of confidence from this game.”
The Football Ferns will now travel to Grenoble, where they will prepare to take on Canada in their second match of Group E on Sunday morning (NZT).