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Walzing Matildas

New Zealand 2, Australia 3
Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, February 12 2015

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How predictable was that title? Much more predictable than this game turned out to be!

Australia. The Auld Frienemy. There is no doubt that when New Zealand plays Australia at anything from Rugby Union to tiddlywinks, we want to win. When we don’t win, months and months of national mourning, scapegoating, recriminations, wailing, gnashing of teeth, crying in the streets and flags at half-mast are all known to occur. And that’s just when we lose at tiddlywinks! You should see what it’s like when we lose at rugby…

When it comes to football, with Aussie having deserted their Antipodean cuzzies for the Asian Football Confederation, we play our nearest neighbours so rarely these days that when we actually do get to we want to show them how far we’ve come. Like any older cousin, we desperately want them to think of us as tough competitors, not the easy beats that they often seem to take great pleasure in mocking. Alas, it’s been five years almost to the day since the last time we played them on home soil, when we lost 3-0 twice. Our last win was in 1994. Our last win in New Zealand was in 1991.

This particular trans-Tasman clash was presided over by an extra special visitor that might have been short in stature but cast a long shadow. The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy was on display at the Northern end of Bill McKinlay Park and with the tournament taking place in Canada in three short months, this was the reason we were all there. This three game series formed a vital part of all three participating nations’ preparation for the tournament. In that context, the final result here didn’t matter so much. But if you believe that you haven’t been paying attention. This was still New Zealand vs Australia. It ALWAYS MATTERS.

That’s why when we won the mock penalty shootout at the end of the match, so pre-arranged for obvious reasons as World Cup prep, it became clear for all to see that this absolutely meant that we had won the day! This memorable and enduring victory obviously makes my account of the game itself completely irrelevant, but I’ll give you my brief impressions simply for the purpose of completeness.

It was a quintessential game of two halves. Australia scored before ten minutes were up and then again not long after with two lovely goals. The first was a stunning long range effort from Emily Van Egmond that fair ripped into the top left hand corner of the goal, the second a well worked move resulting in Michelle Heyman making no mistake 1 on 1 with keeper Erin Nayler. With New Zealand finding themselves in the unwelcomingly familiar position of chasing a game against Australia, the pressure told once again when Caitlin Foord capitalised on some sloppiness at the back to seemingly put New Zealand to bed before half time.

Reality was it could just as easily have been 6-0 as Australia had more than their share of other chances including a Katrina Gorry shot that rattled the post so hard it felt like about a 3 on the Richter Scale. There was a sense of dread around the ground during the half time break that this might be a very long evening.

But the game still had some surprises in store! Two things changed after the break that made all the difference and their names were Betsy Hassett and Sarah Gregorius. Especially the latter, who from the moment she came on looked like a woman on a serious mission. She chased everything, ran everywhere and when the opportunities presented themselves she almost managed to drag New Zealand back to an unlikely draw. Her two goals might not have been quite enough to share the spoils, but thanks to her and the rest of the team seriously lifting their game the Ferns dominated the second half and at least left our neighbours across the deeeeeetch in zero doubt about how far we have come as a footballing nation since last we met. And that’s good enough for me.

That second half display, and a penalty shootout win. We might not have won the actual game but, as the great Meatloaf would almost certainly exclaim if he was here, two out of three ain’t bad!

Categories: Football Ferns

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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