It’s hard to believe the Football Ferns had their most successful World Cup and captured a nation just eight weeks ago.
After producing some of their best football, igniting a new interest in the women’s game, and rewriting a name for themselves, that was all lost this morning as they suffered a convincing 3-0 defeat to Chile in Santiago.
It went from okay, to bad, to very bad, for the Football Ferns.
Poor defending, a lack of spirit and a foolish red card – there was rarely a suggestion the Kiwis would ever get into the game.
Nearly 10,000 kilometres from home, in unusual territory from where the team had been based for close to two months, an inspiring performance was never going to come easy – but that’s not to say it couldn’t be done against the 41-ranked side.
The Football Fern’s underwhelming performance was overshadowed as their World Cup hero and only goalscorer, Hannah Wilkson, was sent off 10 minutes into the second half.
The Melbourne City forward was given a straight red card for making contact with the referee’s assistant.
The 119-capped Fern was frustrated following an earlier decision and began throwing her hands up, arguing with the side-line referee, eventually swiping her arm. After a short deliberation between the referee and her assistant, Wilkson was sent to the sheds immediately.
With breakout star-forward Jacqui Hand out resting, and midfielder Ria Percival not involved in the tour, it forced structural changes for the Football Ferns that looked promising for the first 20 minutes.
Playing a 4-3-3 compared with the consistent 4-4-2 they played at the World Cup, it put Gabi Rennie, Hannah Wilkinson and Paige Satchell in charge of goal-scoring – a notorious area of struggle for New Zealand.
Youngster Rennie had the first chance of the match, five minutes in, thanks to a through ball from India-Paige Riley from the attacking midfield position. In front of goal and one-on-one with the keeper, the 22-year-old skied it over the crossbar. Riley next had a chance of her own, the ball falling for a half-volley, which she too sent it high.
It was positive, most of the play was unusually in the attacking third, and New Zealand looked on top. Seventeen minutes in the Ferns, could, and perhaps should have been up by two, but just 14 minutes later, they were on the other side of that scoreline.
Poor defending and simple turnovers led to goals from Chile’s Daniela Zamora and Yenny Acuna before the break.
The first came from a strike from the top of the box that deflected off New Zealand goalkeeper Victoria Esson and then the woodwork near the penalty spot. Central defender Katie Bowen, who shone at the World Cup and later signed for Inter Milan, was too slow off the mark to stop Zamora from winning the foot race and finishing it off.
Again the Ferns had slow reactions with no urgency to win the ball against the Chileans who failed to qualify for July’s tournament. For the second goal, Acuna successfully kept her body between the ball and Kiwi centreback Rebekah Stott to get the strike-off.
Down 2-0, two-thirds through the first half, Bowen re-grouped the team in a huddle and was seemingly stern in her words that something had to change.
Unfortunately, for the Football Ferns not a lot did, and what already was a nightmare start to what they hoped could be a new chapter just got worse.
Yessenia Lopez scored the third and final goal for Chile two minutes after the break which was almost a carbon copy repeat of the first.
Despite coach Jitka Klimkova’s six changes in the second half, New Zealand struggled to find the spark they carried throughout the World Cup.
Teenager Milly Clegg (for Rennie) showed promise, with a shot on target against the 2021 world’s best goalkeeper, Christiane Endler. Meanwhile, Wellington Phoenix defenders, Kate Taylor (for Stott) and Michaela Foster (for Ali Riley) got some good minutes under their belts.
The Football Ferns now go back to the drawing board ahead of their behind-closed-doors match against Chile again on Wednesday morning.
Bonnie Jansen is a Multimedia Journalist in the NZME Sports team. She’s a keen footballer and has worked with the Alternative Commentary Collective and was part of the Te Rito cadetship scheme before becoming a full-time journalist.