The New Zealand Football Ferns put in a dominant display but were left to rue passing up several excellent opportunities to score in a 2-0 defeat to hosts China in Yongchuan overnight.
In their first outing since the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June, Tom Sermanni’s side were missing a pair of key players in Abby Erceg and Meikayla Moore but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their first-half showing, in which they cut through the Chinese defence on numerous occasions but couldn’t quite apply the finishing touch.
Striker Hannah Wilkinson proved a constant threat and nearly opened the scoring early on, heading a Ria Percival cross narrowly wide. Wilkinson had another sight at goal soon after with a low strike while New Zealand were indebted to the quick reactions of goalkeeper Erin Nayler at the other end, the France-based shot stopper making a point-blank save with her boot to prevent an own goal by skipper Ali Riley.
Ria Percival then stung the palms of the China goalkeeper after being teed up by CJ Bott but the teams somehow went into the break without the deadlock having been broken.
New Zealand began the second half strongly but China introduced a trio of substitutes and those changes had the desired effect, the hosts taking the lead against the run of play through a Wang Shuang header just before the break.
Chances then proved harder to come by for the rest of the match but the boot of Nayler was again needed to prevent China extending their lead while New Zealand went agonisingly close to equalising late on, Paige Satchell bursting onto a pass from fellow substitute Nicole Stratford but steering her effort narrowly wide.
The Ferns then threw caution to the wind as the match entered stoppage time and were hit by a cruel sucker punch, Shuang breaking out of New Zealand’s high press and dinking the ball past a well-advanced Erin Nayler, who had pushed forward to support the attack as New Zealand searched for an equaliser.
That gave China a flattering final scoreline as Sermanni was left to reflect on an otherwise highly-satisfying outing.
“I’m gutted by the result to be honest because I thought it was an outstanding performance,” he said.
“I felt we nullified China for most of the game and created the better chances. Until they scored the first goal, Erin hardly had a save to make and they didn’t create a clear chance. We had a great chance to equalise and had to take a couple of risks at the end so I think 2-0 was a cruel result for the performance.”
Among many positive aspects on the night were the senior international debuts of three players with Claudia Bunge handed a starting berth while Stratford and Jana Radosavljevic both appeared off the bench.
Bunge put in a player-of-the-match performance on her first appearance, showing composure beyond her years in an accomplished display.
“She looked like a seasoned pro, I don’t think she put a foot wrong in the whole game,” Sermanni said.
“I thought her decision-making was first class, she was comfortable on the ball and slotted in fantastically well. Jana and Stratty handled themselves really well too, it’s not easy coming on for the last 15 or 20 minutes of a game like that,” he added.
“So there were a lot of positives tonight – we had opportunities, got into good positions and played some really good football. We just didn’t get the outcome that the performance merited.”
The Football Ferns will now meet Canada in the third place play-off at the invitational tournament on Sunday from 9pm (NZT), there will be no television coverage or live streaming of the game.