Football Ferns outclassed as World Cup build-up begins

The third coming of Abby Erceg didn’t go as hoped.

Back in the Football Ferns in a World Cup year after twice ‘retiring’ due to dissatisfaction with previous coaching and management regimes, the veteran defender suffered an unfortunate moment as Australia’s Matildas scored the opener in a routine 2-0 victory in west Sydney.

Thanks to goal keeper Erin Nayler’s four smart saves, the Football Ferns were still level two minutes before half time. But Nayler then failed to fully deal with a cross, allowing Australian midfielder Emily Gielnik to fire a shot back towards the far post.

Erceg had taken up a good position on the post and looked likely to block the shot, only for it to twist between her legs and sneak into the net.

In truth, Australia should already have been leading, and only failed to do so thanks to a poor miss from striker Emily Van Egmond and a non-call of what seemed to be hand ball in the box by Football Ferns midfielder Betsy Hassett.

The Ferns seldom threatened at the other end, but for an occasional lively run from the pacey Sarah Gregorius.

The second half followed much the same pattern, with the Australians doubling their lead at 75 minutes with a fine goal from substitute Haley Raso.

The result and one-sided nature of the contest between the traditional rivals wasn’t unexpected. Australia are ranked sixth in the world and considered a genuine chance of lifting the World Cup in France in July. The Football Ferns are ranked 19th and, even bolstered by the return of Erceg and fellow veteran Katie Duncan, will do well to get out of their group.

Even so, they will be hoping to produce more threatening performances in their remaining games in the Cup of Nations, against 26th-ranked Argentina on Sunday in Brisbane, and 14th-ranked South Korea in Melbourne next Wednesday.

The Koreans dispatched Argentina 5-0 in the early match at Campbelltown to confirm themselves as Australia’s main competition at the tournament.

There was some joy for New Zealand in Australia on Thursday, with the White Ferns pummeling an Australian Governor General’s XI by 166 runs at Drummoyne Oval, not far down the road from the Football Ferns in Sydney.

A sparkling century by opener Lauren Down and a blistering undefeated 76 from 69 balls from wicket keeper Katey Martin saw the White Ferns post 323/7, with the Australian GG XI managing just 157 in reply.

Football Ferns at the Cup of Nations
L 0-2 to Australia, Sydney Thursday Feb 28

vs Argentina, Brisbane, Sunday March 3, 6.05pm (NZT)

vs Korea Republic, Melbourne, Wednesday, March 6 5.05pm (NZT)

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