Football Ferns lose to Australia on penalties

By Michael Brown

Katie Hoyle of the Football Ferns. Photo / Getty Images.
Katie Hoyle of the Football Ferns. Photo / Getty Images.

The New Zealand women's football side's long quest for a win over Australia will have to wait another year after they were beaten in a penalty shootout in Canberra today.

Australia have been unbeaten in matches against the Football Ferns since 1994 - a run of 26 games - and they easily won the shootout 4-2 after the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Organisers wanted to find a winner with the inaugural Centenary Cup up for grabs and, in reality, the Football Ferns would probably prefer to win over 90 minutes when they break their drought. They lost their nerve in the shootout - Amber Hearn and Katie Hoyle both had their shots saved - and Australia didn't miss.

New Zealand Football have targeted the women's game as an area this country can make an impact, especially with New Zealand virtually guaranteed direct entry to all major competitions because of the weakness of women's football in Oceania, and the main targets are the 2015 World Cup and Rio Olympics the following year.

High Performance Sport New Zealand also recognise the opportunity and have invested $800,000 annually for two years in the Football Ferns, which should help them make a step up from their current world ranking of 20.

But the present side are already very experienced, with a large number having played 50 or more internationals, and they need to start beating top-10 sides. Australia are ranked ninth and a win is long overdue. The players no longer fear the Matildas when in the past they were usually resigned to defeat.

"We're really happy with that performance and it was another game that we should have won," New Zealand coach Tony Readings said. "We've shown twice against a top-10 team that we can keep the ball and dominate the game. We're still a young squad and this team is only going to get better as we build towards the FIFA World Cup 2015 and the Olympics in Rio de Janerio

They will get another crack at a top-10 side next week when they take on Japan in what is an even more difficult assignment.

Readings is trying to change his side's approach, opting for a possession-based game in the hope of wearing the opposition down. They bossed the opening exchanges today, enjoying 70 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes, but they still found themselves trailing 1-0.

Australia scored with their first opportunity when Clare Polkinghorne nodded home from an 11th-minute corner. The Australian captain was afforded too much space only 5m out and it was a soft goal to concede.

New Zealand played some attractive football throughout but it also broke down too frequently as possession was given away or the final ball went astray. This was illustrated by the fact Australia had eight shots on goal to New Zealand's four.

Australia's best moments were often on the break, especially down the right, and they might have doubled their lead but Tameka Butt's near-post volley was well blocked by goalkeeper Erin Nayler.

Just as it seemed Australia were taking control, the Football Ferns levelled through a quality finish from Sarah Gregorius who guided the ball into the top corner in the 37th minute after a couple of neat touches.

Both sides forged out half-chances in the second half as New Zealand kept the ball for long periods. Australia nearly nicked it in injury time from another corner when the ball bounced on the line amid a gaggle of bodies only to prevail in the shootout.

Australia 1 (Clare Polkinghorne) New Zealand 1 (Sarah Gregorius) - Australia win 4-2 on penalties. HT: 1-1.

- APNZ

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