Football Ferns snatch late draw against USA

A late Hannah Wilkinson equaliser has earned the Football Ferns a 1-1 draw against the USA in an international friendly in Columbus today. Photo / Getty Images.
A late Hannah Wilkinson equaliser has earned the Football Ferns a 1-1 draw against the USA in an international friendly in Columbus today. Photo / Getty Images.

A late Hannah Wilkinson equaliser has earned the Football Ferns a 1-1 draw against the World Cup and Olympic champions USA in an international friendly in Columbus today.

After Sydney Leroux had given the home side a 43rd minute lead, Wilkinson brought the Football Ferns - ranked 19th in the world - level with the London Olympic champions when the striker drove the ball home beyond USA goalkeeper Hope Solo in the 87th minute after 35-yard run and pass from centre back Rebekah Stott.

Earlier in the match, New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler made a telling contribution; saving a 12th minute Abby Wambach penalty after Ria Percival was ruled to have handled the ball in the penalty area.

After losing the opening game of the two-match series 4-1 in San Francisco on Monday, Thursday's 1-1 draw, played out in front of more than 15,000 fans at Columbus Crew Stadium, is the first time the Football Ferns have taken a result against the United States in 11 matches since the two sides first met in Taipei in 1987 - a match won 1-0 by New Zealand.

Speaking soon after the game in Columbus, coach Tony Readings hailed the performance of a side who have been charting a constant upward trend of development.

"Today's result is great for the players, they get some reward for their hard work and because they are earning rewards, they'll keep putting in the hard work," Readings said.

The New Zealand coach again highlighted the team's focus on raising their standards as the key driver in earning the memorable result against the world's top ranked team.

"I think the first game played a big part in our performance today," Readings said.

"We've got a way we want to play and in the first game we weren't able to execute that plan as well as we'd have liked. But these players are quick to learn and adapt and today we had the same plan, we just able to execute it better."

Readings paid tribute to several individual contributions; including those of Wilkinson - who has now scored three times against the United States in their last three games - and centre back Rebekah Stott while also noting the growing depth in the squad.

"Rebecca Stott was excellent today, playing under pressure from one of the best strikers in the world. She was able to hold off Abby Wambach, not easy for someone so young, and then she also provided the goal as well."

"I also think our substitutes came on and really made a difference today and I think that is sign that we're developing a squad with more depth and we're going to need that to continue in the future."

Improving on their start from Monday's series opener, the Ferns looked far more composed as they set their possession platform but it was the USA team who had the first real chance to open the scoring through Wambach's spot kick.

But the Ferns, buoyed by Nayler's heroics, found a penetrating edge to their possession as first Wilkinson and then Amber Hearn were released in behind the USA back four to the byline but neither could provide the required pass to find the support to beat USA goalkeeper Hope Solo.

The New Zealand side paid dearly for those missed as Leroux turned Stott and fired into the bottom left hand corner, just beyond the reach of Nayler to give the USA the lead late in the first half after the Ferns had survived two near misses, including a Wambach header off the New Zealand crossbar.

But having conceding a goal at a similar stage on Tuesday, this time the Ferns found the response they needed to cap a successful year which has also netted milestone results against China, Brazil and Australia.

Readings says the side now get a well-earned break as they plan for 2014 with the team looking to play their next matches in January or February.

"The overseas based players will go back to their clubs now while the New Zealand based players will return to the ASB Women's League.

"We've got a couple of months to review, reflect on a good year and start to plan how we can keep improving."

"That's the most exciting thing about this group; there is still a huge amount of untapped potential."

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