Riley and All Whites trio make waves

Football Ferns fullback Ali Riley and a trio of All Whites attackers have led the way for the overseas-based Kiwi players in recent days by making major waves with their exploits. Chris Wood, Ryan Thomas and Marco Rojas all scored for their respective clubs while Riley was voted as one of the best players in the world by her fellow professionals.

Wood’s 23rd goal of the season – combined with a penalty save from former England goalkeeper Robert Green – earned Leeds United a crucial victory over Sheffield Wednesday in a Yorkshire derby at Elland Road, allowing the home side to climb into fourth on the Championship table.

The goal arrived in the 24th minute when the Wednesday defence granted Wood plenty of space as they appealed unsuccessfully for offside and he took full advantage by poking home from inside the penalty area. The 25-year-old is now sharing the second-tier golden boot lead with Newcastle United’s Dwight Gale and could possibly score against all other 23 Championship clubs, having already netted against 16 different opponents so far this term.

Not to be outdone by their international team mate, Thomas and Rojas were also in good form over the weekend as their contributions proved pivotal in a pair of positive results. Thomas picked up his first goal of the season by smashing home from near the penalty spot in PEC Zwolle’s 1-1 draw with AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie while Rojas curled in a stunning free kick to give Melbourne Victory a 2-1 win over Adelaide United in the A-League.

Monty Patterson very nearly joined them in getting on the scoresheet as Braintree Town played out a scoreless stalemate with Maidstone United in the English National League that helped steer his loan side further from the relegation places. Patterson thought he’d won the match when following up a parried effort to stab home with 15 minutes remaining but his strike was ruled out for an infringement.

The goal-scoring trio were matched in making the headlines by Riley, who headed to the Cyprus Cup with the Football Ferns on the back of a massive personal achievement after being shortlisted for the 2016 World XI. The initiative is run by global players association FIFPro and was voted on by more than 3000 players from 47 countries.

The 29-year-old was one of 20 defenders among the nominees, which also included five goalkeepers, 15 midfielders and 15 attackers. FIFPro will name the new World XI on March 8, which is also International Women’s Day. Riley expressed her delight at being named on the shortlist via her Twitter account, posting that she was “speechless for the first time ever”.

A former Ferns team mate of Riley also had something to celebrate after Jenny Bindon accepted an offer from the famous UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) to serve as goalkeeper coach for its women’s team. Bindon’s experience at FIFA Women’s World Cups and Olympic Games – both of which she took part in twice – over a ten-year international career attracted the attention of UCLA.

As well as co-coaching the senior men’s team at Takapuna in the Lotto NRFL last season, the 77-cap Fern has also acted as the assistant coach and goalkeeper coach for the New Zealand U-17 women’s team, and goalkeeper coach for the New Zealand U-20 and senior women’s teams.

One player who will also unfortunately no longer be involved with the Football Ferns is captain Abby Erceg, who has announced her retirement after playing 130 ‘A’ internationals for New Zealand. After taking part in next month’s Cyprus Cup, the defender will concentrate on her club career in the United States with the North Carolina Courage.

Back in the men’s game in England, Tommy Smith finally made his long-awaited comeback as a second-half substitute as Ipswich Town drew 1-1 with fierce rivals Norwich City in an East Anglian derby. Defender Smith, who has recently become available again after a lengthy lay-off to recover from a back injury, came on in the 56th minute as Ipswich earned an away point in front of nearly 28,000 fans.

Smith’s fellow England-based centre back, Winston Reid, played the full 90 minutes as per usual as West Ham United carved out a 1-1 draw at Watford in the Premier League. The result lifted the Hammers to ninth on the table and means they have now lost just one of their past seven away games.

Down under, Rojas wasn’t the only Kiwi toasting success after the Wellington Phoenix silenced their recent critics with a 2-1 away victory over Brisbane Roar. Glen Moss, Andrew Durante, Matthew Ridenton, Kosta Barbarouses and Shane Smeltz all started the match while Hamish Watson, James McGarry and Sarpreet Singh were on the bench.

Smeltz was prominent on his return to the line-up and put the ‘Nix ahead just past the half hour with a diving header that fizzed into the bottom corner. Barbarouses played a key role in the Phoenix’s second goal on the hour, a fabulous string of over 20 passes finding the winger out wide for him to deliver a whipped cross which was tucked home by Roy Krishna – who the All Whites will come up against next month in their pair of FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Fiji.

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