Football Ferns set for Olympic trip

Annalie Longo. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz
Annalie Longo. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz

The Football Ferns might want to start booking their Rio accommodation, arranging their luggage allocations and brushing up on their Portuguese. They are all but qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games after a 7-1 win over Papua New Guinea in Lae this afternoon.

Perhaps the only thing that could stop Tony Readings' side now is another eligibility scandal - the kind which derailed their male counterparts - but surely that can't happen again.

The result demonstrated the ongoing gulf in women's football in the region between New Zealand and the rest. The other Oceania nations have improved in recent years but the Ferns have also continued to grow.

With a roster stacked full of professional players, they now compete with the top nations in the world.

Today was one-way traffic. After opening the scoring in the 20th minute through Amber Hearn, the Ferns led 4-0 by halftime with further goals from Rebekah Stott, Annalie Longo and Aimee Phillips, with Phillips marking her first international start in the best possible way.

Longo also hit the crossbar and the Ferns had another goal scrubbed out for a foul late in the half.

In the sweltering conditions, which saw the teams stop for water breaks in both halves, the Ferns dominated throughout.

In the 53rd minute Longo scored a fine individual goal - dribbling past several defenders before slotting home - then captain Abby Erceg made it six 10 minutes later. Hearn, in her 105th international, volleyed a second in the 64th minute. The hosts finally got on the scoreboard in the 79th minute through Meagan Gunemba.

The second leg of the Oceania Football Confederation playoff is at Albany Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Readings was content with Saturday's effort which provides a good buffer for the side heading back to Auckland.

"We wanted to come back to the second leg with a win and if we could come back with a comfortable lead like we have, then we'd obviously be really happy," Readings said.

"PNG did make it hard for us, they worked hard all the time. They were very aggressive and very physical. But the good thing is we just kept going.

"It would have been easy when we were 4-0 up at halftime to take our foot off the pedal but we kept pushing forward and kept trying to do the right things all the way to the end. I'm really happy with the performance and the result."

- NZ Herald

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