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The joy of six

New Zealand 6, Samoa 0
Ngahue Reserve, Auckland, July 21 2017

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What better way is there to spend the last week day of one’s vacation than by standing in torrential rain and hail at Ngahue Reserve, watching New Zealand become the first country in the world (hosts aside) to book a place at the 2018 FIFA Under 20 Women’s World Cup? Let me help you with that answer. There is none.

The greatest delight of the day wasn’t in the Ferns victory though – that was too much a fait accompli to be overly exciting. It was far more in a super gutsy performance from the team in blue that was easily the best of any opposition New Zealand have faced over the last week and a bit.

Until Friday, Samoa were the only team left at this tournament that I hadn’t seen. I wasn’t expecting much from a side second from bottom on the points table, but they really surprised me with well organised defence and a classy performance from goalkeeper Jecky Toma, ably assisted by playing conditions in the second half that stifled the Ferns’ attacking flow.

Until now, the Ferns opening goals have come in the 16th minute (Papua New Guinea), the 5th minute (Fiji) and the 14th minute (New Caledonia) so Samoa were already ahead of the pack when they survived until the 21st minute before Sam Tawharu latched onto a scuffed clearance and shot the kiwis into the lead.

Nine minutes later Grace Jale nodded a corner home at the far post, and that was the extent of the scoring in the first half.

Dark clouds gathered as the second half got underway and it was obvious to all spectators in attendance that it was time to hunker down for some unpleasantness from the heavens. But before things got truly awful there was a bit of unpleasantness for the Samoan defence when a 56th minute Sarah Morton cross was headed majestically by Mariecamilla Ah Ki into her own net.

From that point on the heavens had well and truly opened and the pitch got increasingly waterlogged to the point where the ball was hardly rolling much at all so everything became a bit laboured.

Nonetheless New Zealand grabbed their fourth goal seven minutes after the hour mark when a Sam Tawharu shot was only partially blocked by a Samoan defender. Emma Main latched onto the rebound and bludgeoned home.

Three minutes after that Tawharu herself benefited from a similar situation when a Hannah Blake shot ricocheted into her path and she doubled her tally for the day. Then it was Blake’s turn, eight minutes from time, when she got on the end of a Main cross to complete the day’s scoring.

Samoa celebrated their 6-0 loss as though they had won. Some may see that as inappropriate. I don’t. New Zealand have been a long way ahead of everyone else in this competition by a country mile. We have vastly higher playing numbers to draw on than the likes of Samoa and we are infinitely better resourced. In so many ways we are the odd nation out in Oceania and we don’t just look it.

These competitions, male and female, are our step-stool to World Cups that no other countries our size get anywhere near as easy a ride to and that’s largely on the backs of our Pacific neighbours. For playing them, we get a glittering prize many much stronger football nations than us would kill for. For playing us, they get very little.

So if they get some joy out of restricting us to six goals against them, that’s OK by me.

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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