Football Ferns at the 2018 Nations Cup: Grand Final vs Fiji

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It’s not like the outcome was going to be in much doubt either way against a team they beat 10-0 a week ago, but you have to admire the Footy Ferns for taking nothing for granted. Qualification for both the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics was on the line after all. So in their semi-final against New Caledonia they went out and scored after 21 seconds. Then in their final against Fiji they scored after a lazy 59 seconds. They scored within the first fifteen minutes of all five games at this Nations Cup. On this final occasion, it was Rosie White getting on the end of Sarah Gregorius’ cross. And that, for a team that did not concede a goal all tournament, may as well have been that.

Tom Sermanni showed all along that he was planning on rotating his squad, getting everybody minutes, but especially making sure that his best players were fresh for when it mattered most. A quick peek at the overall minutes then and the eleven starters in this game were the eleven players who played the most over the entirety of the tournament (I’ll write another thing about overall tournament learnings later with more on that). Erin Nayler back in goal, having sat out every second game so that the two reserves could have a go. Meikayla Moore and Rebekah Stott in defence. Ali Riley on the left, Katie Bowen on the right.

That was the funkiest aspect of this team, Katie Bowen playing right back with CJ Bott only ending up playing twice (you never know who might’ve picked up an injury in training or something though). It was either going to be Bowen or Percival who played RB looking at the names selected (or maybe Stott if one of the midfielders went CB, but that didn’t feel like a perfect fit), and that depended on who played CM. As it happens, they played 45 minutes of CM each. Bowen at RB for one half then Sarah Morton for the second after replacing Percival at the half. Percy was the only player to feature in every game so very understandable to give her a rest with a 4-0 lead at the break. Most capped kiwi footballer ever and all (and she’s only 28 years old).

Which meant Percival in the midfield with Betsy Hassett and Annalie Longo, with Katie Rood given the up-for-grabs third forward role besides Rosie White and Sarah Gregorius. Paige Satchell replaced her for the last twenty-odd minutes and Emma Rolston would also have been in that thinking but Roodie was the best player on the park last time NZ played Fiji so she was always the frontrunner. Since we’ve already talked subs, Anna Green was the other player introduced, playing quarter of an hour at centre-back in place of Meikayla Moore at the end.

One goal up inside a minute became 2-0 up inside six when Sarah Gregorius put yet another international goal away as she converted from the penalty spot after having herself been fouled. If it was a race between White and Gregorius for the golden boot then in almost identical minutes it was Grego who won it. Eight goals all up for her. White bagged six, the same number as Emma Rolston and one ahead of Betsy Hassett and Annalie Longo (overall Gregorius shared the golden boot award with Meagen Gunemba of Papua New Guinea). The Ferns scored within fifteen minutes of kickoff in every one of their five games, nothing much to worry about when those early goals are flying in.

Especially not after Cema Nasau, who had looked Fiji’s best and most dangerous player in this one, was sent off for a second yellow in the 40th minute. Came through on Ria Percival with a bit of a stomp and that was enough for the ref to return to the pocket. Nasau had gone as close as anyone in this tournament to breaking the kiwi defence when she spun free with a brilliant turn and ran about forty metres but couldn’t control her shot. Once she was dismissed it took the remaining steam out of Fiji… who had looked to play a bit on the counter, fair play to them. They had a wonderful tournament, particularly in their 5-1 semi-final win over Papua New Guinea. When they weren’t playing Aotearoa they were unbeaten with a +19 goal difference. Forget the hidings the kiwi team laid down, Fiji’s 12-0 win over Tonga was the biggest win of the tournament. Having come through qualifying to make it this far, this was a fantastic effort from the Fijian women and they’re looking like a team that will only get better too.

The Footy Ferns kept on pushing for goals and Betsy Hassett made it three with a deflected effort from outside the box which the keeper kinda gave up on before Meikayla Moore took advantage of another keeping error to tap in a fourth before the break. A lovely ball from Rosie White then helped Katie Rood cut back inside a defender for her fourth goal of the tournament a few minutes after play resumed. There was some quality stuff from Rood running at defenders down the left and we saw more of it in the second half with the stretched Fijian defence forced to concede more space. Sarah Gregorius also worked well in those areas, not to mention the passing vision of Betsy Hassett, who would score the sixth soon after. Sarah Morton with a bit of credit deserved for her run forwards and the square ball across to pick out Hassett.

At this point there wasn’t much left to achieve unless you wanted to rub it in against a team down to ten players. The Ferns ran a couple more subs and scored a couple more goals, one to Sarah Gregorius and one to Rosie White. 8-0 was the final score. Pats on the back all around. Job done.

Not as fluent as they were the previous time they played Fiji, the long tournament also playing a factor in that with five games crammed into 13 days. But the target was to win the tournament by any means necessary and they did it with 42 goals scored and zero conceded. There’ll be some wider Nations Cup recollections in the next Ferns article but for now… World Cup and Olympics, here we come!

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