Ferns sunk by late Dutch goal in Cup opener
Netherlands 1 New Zealand 0: Heartbreak for Football Ferns as late, late Dutch winner dents World Cup hopes.
A goal in the second minute of stoppage time consigned the Football Ferns to a hard luck 1-0 defeat at the hands of European champions Netherlands in their opening match at the Fifa World Cup in Le Havre.
The result puts a significant dent in the Ferns’ hopes of qualifying from group play for the first time at a World Cup.
The Kiwis – who could easily have been leading heading into the final minutes instead of attempting to hang on for what would have been a precious, vital point – must now try to get at least a draw from their second match against Canada and then defeat Cameroon to progress in the tournament.
While the Dutch dominated possession and ultimately grabbed a scrappy winner from a close range header by Jill Roord with just two minutes of play remaining, the Ferns created just as many clear scoring opportunities as their more highly fancied opponents.
The Ferns produced a highly encouraging first 45 minutes at the tournament, conceding the lions’ share of possession to the classy Dutch, but looking dangerous on the counter.
Olivia Chance came within a whisker of handing the Kiwis the lead in the 11th minute when she crashed a powerful left foot drive against the Dutch crossbar from 20m, while Rosie White stung the palms of Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal with a blazing strike from long distance in the 33rd minute.
Both chances came on the counter-attack, with the Ferns breaking swiftly after withstanding long periods of Dutch pressure.
While the European champions dominated possession to the tune of 70 per cent to 30 per cent, they managed just the one shot on target in the first half against the disciplined, organised Kiwi defence.
That figure really should have been at least two strikes on goal, with Dutch centre back Dominique Bloodworth missing a gilt-edged chance from close range after Sarah Gregorius failed to clear a corner on the stroke of half time.
The miss was perhaps justice for the Kiwis, who would have been unfortunate to trail at the break.
The Dutch flashed their skill early, with star winger Lieke Martens skinning CJ Bott with a neat turn to deliver a cross into the box in the opening minute.
However, the Kiwis cleared easily and produced their first threat with a similarly searching ball into the Dutch area from Ria Percival.
Martens produced the first shot on goal in the tenth minute, with the tame drive easily saved by Erin Nayler.
The Ferns, who had looked lively in possession, then transitioned quickly into attack and fashioned the first clear opening of the match, with Chance picking up a loose ball and skipping into space before firing a powerful shot that crashed into the crossbar.
The Dutch created several half-chances but the next real threat on goal came when Gregorius produced a neat lay-off for White, with the Ferns striker unleashing a long range left foot drive that would have flashed into the net had it not been for a sprawling save from van Veenendaal.
In search of at least a point from one of their first two matches against group favourites Netherlands and Canada, the Ferns looked highly capable of achieving at least that after starting the second half in much the same way they did the first.
Gregorius had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 51st minute after great work by Betsy Hassett, however the Ferns striker failed to make a clean connection with her shot when unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and the ball was tipped wide of the post by van Veenendaal.
A superb through ball from Martens sent Vivianne Miedema clear and the striker’s angled drive beat Nayler only to roll just wide of the far post.
White then did superbly to flash a header on goal and Nayler saved brilliantly with her left foot when Miedema seemed certain to score from close range as the match teetered in the balance.
With four minutes of stoppage time announced the Ferns were agonisingly close to securing that vital point, however they finally paid the price for defending too deep.
Shanice van de Sanden won a crucial header at the far post and directed the ball across goal where substitute Jill Roord was waiting to nod home a simple header, sparking wild celebrations from the Dutch.
“I think we were courageous, battled hard and were unbelievably disciplined and gave everything we had,” Ferns coach Tom Sermanni said.
“Tactically the players did everything we asked of them. It is a bit heartbreaking, but that is football.
“We came up against one of the best teams in the world, who have a chance to win this tournament, and we went shoulder to shoulder with them.”
They did, too – for 92 of the game’s 94 minutes.