The Football Ferns are targeting a win in their play-off match against Hungary at the Cyprus Cup after wrapping up pool play with one of their best showings of the tournament in a 2-0 loss to a classy Korea Republic side.
Going into the tournament, Korea Republic had the reputation of being the most accomplished outfit in Group B and lived up to that tag with a polished performance against the Kiwis. But, despite falling to a third consecutive defeat, New Zealand coach Tony Readings was pleased with what he saw at the Stadio Antonis Papadopoulos in Larnaca.
“It was probably our best performance of the tournament, they’re good at keeping the ball but we defended really well,” he said.
“We had a lot of opportunities to hurt them that we weren’t able to take. A big thing for us is to try and improve those areas and introduce some players who can, either now or in the future, help us with some of the deficiencies we’ve had in the past.”
Honours were even at the halfway stage with the scorers yet to be troubled but Korea Republic took the lead shortly after the break, Kang Yumi belting home the rebound after Jang Seul-ki had hit the post from a cross. The advantage was doubled just a few moments later as Ji So-yeon headed home a Kim Hye-ri free kick.
New Zealand were again missing captain Abby Erceg – who took part in the first match against Scotland but has been out injured for the past two – while midfield lynchpin Katie Duncan was unavailable for the tour, leaving the line-up without the valuable experience of the 250 international caps gained between the pair.
In their absence and with some bright prospects coming through, Readings has taken the opportunity to blood several new players and is delighted with how they have stepped up to senior international level.
“The younger players have all done really well and there have been some really encouraging signs. The first goal at the tournament was to win as many games as possible, which we haven’t been able to do, but the second was to make sure we do build towards 2019 and 2020,” Readings said.
After the recent internationals retirements of Erceg, Sarah Gregorius and Rebecca Rolls, Readings is currently looking to refresh the Ferns squad with an eye on the next editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Olympic Games. The uncapped trio of goalkeeper Anna Leat, midfielder Malia Steinmetz and striker Martine Puketapu were all included in the Cyprus Cup squad, along with fellow U-20 internationals Paige Satchell and Jasmine Pereira.
“A lot of the other teams at this tournament are peaking because they have really important events coming up shortly,” Reading said. “We’re at the stage where we’re trying to build and are looking at players. So the results of the games have been disappointing but, at the same time, it’s been really encouraging for the future.”
Readings says the loss of Erceg and Duncan, who he describes as the rock and heart of the team, has been keenly felt in Cyprus.
“We’ve had quite an established squad for a while and any team would miss those two players a huge amount. But we’ve been able to bring in a few players who were at the U-20 World Cup and they haven’t looked out of their depth against these teams,” he said.
“There hasn’t been any game where we’ve been completely outplayed for large periods. These players have come in and more than held their own.”
New Zealand will now take on Hungary late on Wednesday night (NZT) in the play-off for ninth at the 12-team Cyprus Cup and Readings is confident of ending on a high.
“It would be good to come away from this tournament with a whole lot of learnings, having identified who the future players are that we need to invest in,” he said. “By the time we get to the next pinnacle events, we want to have a core of really experienced, strong internationals and a number of younger players who will also be able to perform.”
New Zealand 0
Korea Republic 2 (Kang Yumi 50′, Ji So-yeon 52′)
New Zealand: 1. Erin Nayler (GK), 2. Ria Percival (18. CJ Bott 70′), 6. Rebekah Stott, 7. Ali Riley (c), 9. Amber Hearn (25. Martine Puketapu 80′), 10. Annalie Longo (22. Aimee Phillips 75′), 12. Betsy Hassett (20. Daisy Cleverley 55′), 13. Rosie White, 14. Katie Bowen, 15. Meikayla Moore, 17. Hannah Wilkinson (8. Jasmine Pereira 60′)
Substitutes not used: 3. Anna Green, 11. Kirsty Yallop, 21. Anna Leat (GK), 27. Paige Satchell, 28. Malia Steinmetz
Coach: Tony Readings