Ferns claim Danish scalp

Fullback Ria Percival scored in her 99th cap for New Zealand on Thursday. Photo by Photosport.

The Football Ferns claimed their maiden victory over Denmark on Thursday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the 16th-ranked European side in Belek, Turkey.

Having fallen behind inside the opening five minutes to Simone Sorensen’s opener, the 18th-ranked Football Ferns recovered in quick time, fullback Ria Percival and then striker Hannah Wilkinson putting Tony Readings’ side ahead by the 22nd minute.

Denmark pulled level in first half stoppage time via Sofie Pedersen but halftime substitute Annalie Longo – scorer of New Zealand’s goal in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the sides – provided the winner in the 58th minute.

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Readings said Thursday’s outing was a stark contrast to Tuesday’s series opening effort with Denmark enjoying the better of the opening spell but his side were able work themselves into the lead regardless.

“It was definitely a different game this time to the first one,” Readings said.

“It wasn’t a good start and they were on top leading up to that goal and they definitely had the best of the first half. But that’s what we’ve done over the last year; we’ve been the better team yet we haven’t managed to make that count in terms of goals.

“Today the shoe was on the other foot so it was quite nice to be the team that maybe wasn’t as strong over a period of time but actually be leading.”

“I think the challenge for us is to make sure we do start well in these games because when you do go ahead in World Cups it is hard to claw it back. It’s much better to be defending a lead than it is chasing one.”

After conceding the fifth minute opener to Sorensen, the Football Ferns responded quickly, levelling the match just four minutes later when Percival – playing in her 99th game – swung her corner directly into the Denmark net.

The Ferns were ahead just after the 20 minute mark when Sarah Gregorius played in fellow striker Wilkinson and the Northland product made no mistake in notching her 20th international goal for the New Zealand side in her 63rd match.

Readings’ team looked like holding that 2-1 edge at halftime but Pedersen’s goal in first half stoppage time had the topsy-turvy match back level at the break.

Two halftime substitutions saw defender Rebekah Stott and Longo brought into the action and it was the Coastal Spirit midfielder who put the Ferns ahead for good just before the hour mark.

Scoring three goals in an international against opposition outside Oceania for the first time since a 4-0 win over China at the Valais Cup in September 2013, Readings saw development on Thursday in front of goal – something which has been a key area of focus for his side in recent times.

“I think the difference was we probably weren’t as good across the whole game as were in the last one but today were just more clinical in taking our opportunities. We haven’t scored three goals in an international for a while so it was nice to get those and if anything we should have had more goals.

“What was really pleasing was that two of the goals were things the players have been working hard on all week. It’s pleasing to see we are taking steps forward but also the things that the players are working hard on are starting to pay dividends now.

“It’s a good lesson for us, if we don’t play up to our usual top standard we can still win games. The challenge for us is to make sure we stick to our high standards for 90 minutes and still be clinical and get the two [together] because that’s what’s going to be required at the World Cup.”

Thursday’s win, and the draw preceding it, have been achieved with Readings and his coaching staff tinkering with combinations and formations as they look to give players an opportunity to impress and the Football Ferns coach says one of the key contributing factors to their success in Turkey has been the developing strength in depth of his squad.

“It’s probably been one of the most pleasing things of the tour. We said when we assembled for the tour that we did have one of the strongest squads we’ve ever had.

“We were able to make four changes to the starting 11 and we were able to bring on six quality players. Across the two games we did well and there were a lot of players who contributed in that regard.”

Readings noted the role of Percival, scorer of the first goal that pulled his side level, saying Thursday’s showing was yet another example of what has seen the talented fullback notch 99 games for her country.

“Ria is one player that typifies exactly what the Football Ferns are all about. She’s a real tenacious player, a hard worker and a brave player but with a real quality in possession and she’s been excellent across both of these games.

“Today she wasn’t well when she went on to the pitch and she was one of the stronger players throughout the whole game and she definitely deserved her goal. Consistently she’s been good for the Ferns and these two games are just more proof of that.”

Football Ferns v Denmark
Thursday 15 January
Spice Hotel Football Ground
Belek, Turkey

Football Ferns 3-2 Denmark (half: 2-2)
NZL: Ria Percival 9’, Hannah Wilkinson 22’, Annalie Longo 58’
DEN: Simone Sorensen 5’, Sofie Pedersen 45+2’

Football Ferns: 1. Erin Nayler (GK), 2. Ria Percival, 4. Katie Hoyle (8. Hayley Bowden 73’), 5. Abby Erceg (capt), 7. Ali Riley, 9. Amber Hearn, 10. Sarah Gregorius (20. Helen Collins 60’), 11. Kirsty Yallop (18. Katie Bowen 56’), 12. Betsy Hassett (16. Annalie Longo 46’), 15. Meikayla Moore (6. Rebekah Stott 46’), 17. Hannah Wilkinson (13. Rosie White 76’)
Substitutes not used: 3. CJ Bott, 23. Cushla Lichtwark (GK), 26. Daisy Cleverley
Coach: Tony Readings

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Tony Readings