Steinmetz and Ferns sign off World Cup prep with a win

A dominant first half and a cleansheet has ensured that the Ford Football Ferns signed off their World Cup preparations with a much-deserved 2-0 win against Vietnam in Ahuriri Napier’s McLean Park.

As they prepare for their opening game against Norway, a week on Thursday, and having the eyes of the nation on them,  the names of their predecessors on their backs as the Ferns walked out onto McLean Park with jackets emblazoned with the names off all capped Ferns inside the number 24.

The New Zealanders lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Katie Bowen and Rebekah Stott anchoring the defence, and Percival reprising her place at the heart of the Ferns midfield. The newly named co-captain, making her comeback for the Ferns 454 days after tearing her ACL against Australia in Townsville, marked the occasion by wearing the armband.

Vietnam kicked off with the Ferns retrieving posession and quickly falling into a comfortable rhythm, setting the tone for a dominant first half.

The Ferns were positive from the off with Vietnam happy to sit deep, . Indiah-Paige Riley and Jacqui Hand were dynamic on the flanks, and Percival quickly reestablished herself with a couple of crunching tackles and dangerous deliveries, particularly off corners.

The Ferns opened the scoring in the 17th minute, with Percival sending a long pass off a corner to CJ Bott stationed outside the penalty area, and the Leicester City fullback netted her third international goal and maintaining a record that sees her only scoring for the national team from at least 30 yards out.

The Ferns doubled their lead shortly before the break, courtesy of the the dynamic wing duo I-P Riley and Hand and some well-constructed build-up play. Betsy Hassett set up Riley to run into the right of the penalty area, and her squared ball was tapped in by Hand after her own well-timed run inside the 6-yard box.

The Ferns dominance was reflected in the halftime stats, having enjoyed 69% of possession, outshooting Vietnam 17-1 and goalkeeper Vic Esson being able to count on one hand the number of times she touched the ball.

While the second half was a little quieter from the Ferns, the half was no less significant for the team in their World Cup build up, signalled by a quadruple change in the 68th minute. Percival replaced by fellow ACL recoveree Annalie Longo, who won her race against time to recover from her own injury sustained in September.

Longo made an immediate impact, teeing up an early chance for fellow substitute Liv Chance,  and her subsequent touches and movement reminding Ferns fans of what they’d been missing in her absence.

Even a late scare for the Ferns when goalscorer Bott received some medical attention after her ankle was clipped by Thi Thao – who received the game’s only yellow card – wasn’t enough to dampen the mood, with the Tawa product back on her feet to see out the Ferns’ win.

Head coach Jitka Klimkova was particularly pleased with her side’s first half performance in particular.

“The first half was an incredible performance, with a lot of good combination play, which we were working on. And I’m so happy that we scored and that we actually kept the clean sheet. Those are two things that we were working the most on. to be more efficient in front of our goal in attack and be gritty in front of our goal defensively. So seeing how we played and having this result is very helpful with our confidence to go further and be more prepared for our first game at the World Cup.”

Goal scorer Jacqui Hand was delighted to see a crowd of over 6000, and to hit the back of the net after an impressive first half.

“There’s absolutely no feeling like playing at home. It’s incredible to have so many people come out, and the first time we’ve played an international match in Napier and to see all of them out there was just an amazing feeling.

“It’s always good to get those goals, but I think, yeah, the performance tonight was, was such a confidence booster in that we were able to create so many chances and yeah, putting ’em away is always a good thing.”

Ford Football Ferns starting XI:

21. Vic Esson, 4. CJ Bott (17’), 14. Katie Bowen, 7. Ali Riley, 13. Rebekah Stott, 12. Betsy Hassett, 2. Ria Percival (C), 6. Malia Steinmetz, 16. Jacqui Hand (44’) 20. Indiah-Paige Riley, 17. Hannah Wilkinson


17’ GOAL CJ Bott (assist Ria Percival)

44’ GOAL Jacqui Hand (assist Indiah-Paige Riley)

68’ SUBSTITUTIONS 3. Claudia Bunge on for 13. Rebekah Stott, 5. Michaela Foster on for 7. Ali Riley, 11. Liv Chance on for 17. Hannah Wilkinson, 10. Annalie Longo on for 2. Ria Percival

80’ SUBSTITUTIONS 22. Milly Clegg on for 20. Indiah-Paige Riley, 9. Gabi Rennie on for 16. Jacqui Hand