The Football Ferns have signed off on their year with a 3-0 loss to Canada, leaving coach Tom Sermanni with plenty to ponder as he looks to plot a successful campaign at the Olympic Games next year in Tokyo.
Having put in an outstanding display but coming up empty handed in a 2-0 loss to hosts China several days earlier, the Ferns took on Canada – who they were beaten 2-0 by at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June – in the third place play-off of a four-team invitational tournament in Yongchuan, Chongching City.
But they were not able to exact any revenge with the classy North Americans running out deserved winners after Christine Sinclair’s first-half header was followed by a quick-fire Janine Beckie double mid-way through the second half.
After handing debuts to Claudia Bunge, Jana Radosavljevic and Nicole Stratford against China – Bunge from the start and the others from the bench – Sermanni again took the opportunity to give some of his emerging players a chance to impress as he searches for a winning combination by Tokyo 2020.
Bunge, who put in a player-of-the-match performance in her first appearance, was again included from the start while Radosavljevic earned a place in the walk-on side for the first time. But Bunge was unfortunately denied the chance to build on the promising beginning to her senior international career when she picked up an injury towards the end of the first half and was replaced by Stratford.
New Zealand had gone behind just a couple of minutes earlier, Sinclair taking her career tally to 183 – just one away from the all-time international goals record set by United States legend Abby Wambach – by tucking away an Ashley Lawrence cross.
The Ferns did not have to wait long for a chance to get back in the game, creating a sight on goal just five minutes later but Tottenham Hotspur player Ria Percival could not keep her effort below the cross bar.
Sermanni had stated before the tournament that his main focus would be on the progress of individual players rather than securing results and, to that end, he made another change at half-time with Hannah Blake coming on for Radosavljevic.
It was just a second Football Ferns appearance for Blake, her only previous cap coming against Thailand at the end of 2017. Blake would have hoped to help inspire a comeback and New Zealand were again nearly back on level terms early in the second half when a Katie Rood effort was saved by Steph Labbé.
But the game was then taken away from Sermanni’s side by the class of Beckie, who has scored more goals for her country from open play (25) than any other player since the Canada-hosted World Cup in 2015.
Sermanni had introduced the hugely experienced pair of Hannah Wilkinson and Annalie Longo between Beckie’s goals while Sarah Gregorius also entered the fray late on. None were able to get New Zealand back into the contest but Sermanni was again able to take much from the exercise.
“Our performance was actually better than it was in the World Cup against Canada,” he said.
“I thought we were more competitive tonight and the players put in a really good effort to keep in the game as long as we could. Ultimately, we were just beaten by a team that had better quality and were better than us physically.”
Reflecting on the two matches in China, Sermanni was pleased to have run the rule over certain players with his Olympic selections in mind.
“That’s what we wanted to do on this tour – we wanted to see what players could do at this level. We’re fairly limited in the amount of times we can do that so it’s not easy for players to suddenly get thrown in there and try to make an impression. But it’s been invaluable to us and I’m sure it has been for those players as well,” he said.
“We’ve got a really open mind about who we pick for the Olympics and it’s about players stepping up and performing to make sure they’re picked.”